Monday, July 14, 2008

Remembering 'Wild Bill'

“Crusty” would most likely be the adjective William Sorrels would’ve used to describe himself if asked.

Not surprising to those who knew him best, I would’ve chosen the word “tenderhearted” to describe him instead. For within that skin, thickened by years of newspapering, beat the heart of one of the most caring individuals ever to cross my path thus far in life.

Mr. Sorrels’ booming voice often sounded gruff as he would bark orders down the hallways of the Cromwell Communications building on The W campus. Most of us figured out early on, though, that the roar was pretty much for show and slight intimidation; that even when he was at his sternest moment, you could still see that caring sparkle in his eyes.

We lovingly referred to Mr. Sorrels as “Wild Bill.” The name just kind of somehow fit the laid-back man who truly believed that each one of us could become a viable member of the newspaper community.

“There’s a feature in everyone,” Mr. Sorrels proclaimed during the first day of our feature writing class. “It’s just up to you to find it.”

And the search was on. Although I truly wanted to use his class to hone my journalistic skills, I also highly sought his approval of my writing. Most of the time, I received it. When I got off on a tangent of two or three word leads, though, he told me that maybe I should consider putting a little more thought – and wording – into my starting paragraph.

During the times I felt the least confident about my career path choice, “Wild Bill” would come up with some adage or words of encouragement to cheer me on.

“Jobe, it’s not rocket science,” he would often say to me as a large grin covered his wrinkling face.

Although I received my degree and was thrust out into the cold, cruel world, I wasn’t ever totally alone. From time to time I would answer the phone at work and a familiar voice on the other end would boom, “Jobe, what’s your lead story today?”

Being a firm believer in giving folks their accolades while they’re still around, I once got the opportunity to tell Mr. Sorrels how much his guidance meant to me both personally and professionally. Although I had a father, I told him how he was truly a father-figure in my life. He paused as if trying to come up with the exact response, and simply replied, “That means more to me than you will ever know.”

Although I never rose higher than a news editor for a community paper, Mr. Sorrels was as proud of me as if I were a member of some major metropolitan newspaper staff. Often he would read one of my “Impatience of Jobe” columns, photocopy it and send a personal note in the margins.

When we would get the opportunity from time to time to actually visit, Mr. Sorrels always wanted to “talk shop” first, but he never missed an opportunity to ask about my family and, specifically, how my personal life was going. He knew that being content with life made a writer even better and wanted to make sure I was content with mine.

Mr. Sorrels truly taught me how to view the world in a way no other person had before. Because of him, I took pride in writing even the most mundane stories because, like he taught us, every person deserves the opportunity to have their story told. To him, a life was worth more than just an obituary when it was over.

And I adopted that form of respect for others during my 23-year newspaper career.

Encouraging us to dream and do, Mr. Sorrels often made us believe we could do things others felt we could never achieve.

“Jobe, you really need to write a book,” Wild Bill would often say. I would just brush off the comment, stating that my column and the newspaper articles I wrote from time to time were fulfilling enough for me. If I ever do follow through and write a book, though, I have always known in my mind how the dedication will read.

Although he is no longer in this world, I can’t imagine Wild Bill ever at total rest. I’m sure by now he has interviewed almost everyone who has entered those gates of pearl since his arrival there Saturday. And I’m certain Mr. Sorrels has patted St. Peter on the back at least once, encouraging him to take his job – and his life - a bit easier.

“It’s not rocket science, St. Pete,” he’s said.

And I’m sure St. Peter simply smiled as he ushered Wild Bill into eternity.

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