Some of the sparkle went out of the world this past week with the death of Sylvia Higginbotham. It seems only fitting that someone should write about her, since she herself was such a prolific writer. It would be impossible to count how many homes in Columbus alone contain at least one of her books, little homilies on life in the South, recipes, or gorgeous coffee table volumes on Southern houses. She was an intrepid traveler, documenting in her articles places she thought others would like to see. Although her comings and goings might seem frenetic at times, she also liked to seek out solitude occasionally, especially in North Carolina, where she could retreat and write.
Born in Laurel, she was a Southern girl through and through, but she had no hint of a Southern drawl. Her speech was like her mind, like a machine gun firing rapidly, rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat. She was sharply observant, priding herself on not missing any detail, in the manner of a crackerjack reporter.
She had valiantly battled cancer, and won, making her a survivor.
I first met Sylvia when I was writing “The Showcase,” a little commentary and calendar for the Columbus Arts Council. Pat Kaye (the late Mrs. Sam Kaye) was director of the Arts Council at that time, and we had a little office upstairs above the old Merchants’ and Farmers’ Bank building. Sylvia called on us, volunteering her services and a plethora of ideas that made me say to myself, “Gee whiz!” Later she, too, served as executive director of the Arts Council.
She was not all talk, however. She was always ready and eager to help other aspiring writers get their work into print. She was hugely instrumental in getting me to print a collection of some of my earlier columns in book form. With Sylvia gone, I am not sure I’ll ever go through that again.
We had some adventures. We traveled to Colquit, Ga., to see its production of “Swamp Gravy,” an excellent amateur production featuring each year a new episode of local history. We had ideas of doing something like that for Columbus, but decided the Junior Auxiliary already had a similar, though less elaborate, thing going with the Pilgrimage pageant. Now they are not doing the pageant any more with the ball, but Sylvia is gone, and so is our big idea. (By the way, if anyone thinks he would like to travel to Colquit to see its performance, I would rate it with four stars.)
We managed to get almost hopelessly lost one time in Tuscaloosa, Ala., of all places. We were trying to find a certain highly recommended restaurant. We found it, all right, but not until three o’clock in the afternoon. They were no longer serving at that hour. We had to settle for a roadside cafe, a truck stop, if I remember correctly. It was fun, however. Sylvia was always fun. If I were trying to think of something I would like said at my own eulogy, I am not sure I could top that. Life is, after all, a gift. Certainly blessed are those who can enjoy it.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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