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OPINION | LET'S TALK: A lesson to keep in touch

by Helaine Williams | November 14, 2021 at 2:50 a.m.

I'm still reeling from the untimely passing of several former co-workers.

One died in late 2020, unbeknownst to me. The most recent deaths: a popular copy editor who'd left the paper and moved to Florida years ago; and ... the first editor with whom I worked as a Features writer.

Robbie Moreland, who left us in October, was described in her Democrat-Gazette obituary as "a sharp wit, quick on the uptake, with a keen eye and ear for the foibles and facades of society, but, paradoxically, also blessed by possession of a romantic's warm heart."

That she was. She had a physical beauty, and an air about her that I sometimes envied. That sharp wit and quickness on the uptake came in a quiet, gentle, poised outer package that drew people to her.

I came to know her in 1987 when, tired of being the action-line columnist for the former Arkansas Democrat, I transferred to the paper's then-single-section Style department. Robbie had, in her earlier life, been a registered nurse, and I wondered at the time why someone in the well-paid health industry would want to leave it for journalism. (How young and naive of me to wonder that. I know now that being bitten by the writing/journalism bug can make kings abdicate their thrones.) I figured she'd initially followed in the footsteps of her mother, Zetta Moreland, who had been a nurse, then a nanny in retirement. Ms. Zetta passed in December 1994 at age 83. Robbie made it to 67.

Before Robbie became Style section editor, she was the reporter for that section. I became bridal editor in 1987 and, well, endured until 1989, when our then-section editor left the job to "defect" to the former Arkansas Gazette in what were the final days of the state newspaper war. I campaigned, successfully, for Robbie's and my promotions.

In addition to writing cover features — and as what must surely have been a harbinger of what I'd later be doing for our High Profile section — I took over the section's column announcing coming charity events, announcements that ran with photos of the event planners. Robbie continued with her antiques column Collectively Speaking, educating readers on the antique collectibles and gewgaws they'd ask her about. She wrote about everything from Depression glass and carnival glass to "Winnie the Pig" pottery cookie jars to Winston Churchill books that weren't.

During that time, Robbie and I formed a friendship. We had long talks. We complained and pity-partied together. We shared about relationships. We saw a couple of movies together; if my memory serves me, I have her to blame for my seeing "Andy Warhol's Frankenstein."

I loved going to her home in Midtown, a charming cottage appointed with antiques, everything in its place, never dirty. I loved her white cat, Pecos Bill — even though I was always somehow attired in cat-fiber-loving black whenever I visited — and the feeling seemed mutual.

Robbie and I also shared many a laugh, joking about such silly things as having a "control panel" at our fingertips to run the world the way we wished. A year after we were promoted, Robbie was one of seven bridesmaids in my first wedding, a strange Southern-country-tries-to-meet-Park-Avenue mix whose rehearsal dinner was a find-a-seat-wherever-you-could spaghetti dinner at my folks' house in Woodson. Robbie's gentleman friend joined us, and it was one of the best times together that we had.

After an early-1990s shift in which the High Profile section went statewide, necessitating the discontinuation of that early Style section, Robbie worked as a copy editor before leaving the paper. Our communication could be sporadic; she could be tough to catch on the phone even when I was trying to return her call. But the friendship and occasional adventures endured ... even through a couple of unfortunate events and misunderstandings.

Gradually the communication became more sporadic. We reconnected in the 2000-teens, when I learned that Robbie, who'd had her bouts with health problems in the past, was at this time fighting cancer. We got together a time or two; she regaled me with tales of not just battling the disease, but battling for her health care. We prayed together; I prayed for her.

But then the communication trickled off completely. Until, that is, her attempt to get it going again earlier this year. I listened to her voicemail and made a mental note to try to get back in touch. I didn't. Life happened.

Then, her death happened. I was the one who was tough to catch this final time.

In an era in which we're all suffering the losses — expected and unexpected — of friends and loved ones, I knew better. The grief and guilt will pass, but I need the lesson to stick around. May we all do better at keeping in touch.



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