Losing Louise

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut, Food, Jefferson, Kitchen Table Talk

This Thanksgiving week has been filled with a heart-tugging mix of sadness and gratitude. At the peak of the sorrow this week for me is the death of my friend and co-worker, Louise Durman.

I was a 21-year-old clueless college student when I walked into the Knoxville News-Sentinel in 1975 to work as an intern in the Women’s Department. Louise was the food writer. She and the team of women in that department – which went through many name changes before finally becoming simply “Features” – taught me, took care of me, molded me and loved me. They helped me become a better writer, a better – and wiser – person, and they held my hand when my mom, who was 300 miles away, couldn’t. They lived through my car troubles, boy troubles, sicknesses, engagement, wedding, buying a house and having babies.

Louise Durman

As I went about shaping a career at the Sentinel, I began watching what these accomplished women around me were doing every day. It was a time when what “mattered” at the newspaper was hard news and sports. Few outside our department cared what the housewives and new surge of working women were doing. But Louise, Betsy Morris, Linda Lange, Linda Fields, Barbara Aston-Wash, Christine Anderson and Barbara Asbury cared, and they pulled these stories to the forefront of the “Living” or “Features” sections.

Louise was a true trailblazer in the food world. Yes, she wrote stories about home cooks and shared their recipes. Yes, she would find a favorite for you that your mom cut out of the newspaper long ago and you lost. Yes, she would write about birthday cakes and pumpkin pies and strawberry jam.

Linda Lange, who also came to work alongside Louise in 1975 and remained a close friend, said, “She loved being a journalist and wrote with great authority on a wide range of topics. People enjoyed reading her food pages, and considered her the go-to person for finding the best recipes. She took an interest in everyone who called for advice, and many of those people became her friends.”

Louise was also a visionary. Linda Fields, former News-Sentinel features editor, said, “Louise was a Midwestern girl, and she knew the impact and importance of farming. She had a home economics degree from Purdue and a master’s in journalism from Columbia University in New York City. She knew how to bring all that together to do what she loved.”

Although she wrote four cookbooks, Louise reached beyond the quick story and recipes to introduce News-Sentinel readers to what was going on at a different level in the world of food. She wrote about chefs when everyone called them “cooks.” She interviewed farmers about trends, promoted Tennessee produce and “pick-your-own” farms when they were a rarity and got into the grocery stores to highlight the business side of the food world. She focused on restaurants and the things they were doing because she knew the readers loved eating out.

She also loved the traditional newspaper nemesis of feature writers – the sports section. “Louise was a huge Tennessee sports fan and read the Sports section every day,” said Steve Ahillen, retired News Sentinel executive sports editor. “We talked often about what was going on with the Vols. She really liked doing feature stories on cooking with coaches and coaches’ spouses like Pat Summitt and Mary Lynn Majors.”

Louise’s favorite book project was the one called “Vol Vittles,” which was a collection of short interviews and recipes from UT Volunteer coaches and spouses of coaches.

Her true loves were found outside the walls of the newspaper: her son, Christopher, and husband, Fred. Later that grew to include grandson Will and daughter-in-law Candice, all of Jefferson City.

Louise loved A.A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh” books and named her son after Christopher Robin. Chris’ beautiful tribute to his mother on Facebook included this note: “I was holding Momma’s hand and reading to her last Friday afternoon, Nov. 19, at about 2:15. Pooh had just eaten too much at Rabbit’s and managed to get himself stuck while trying to leave through Rabbit’s door when Momma took her last breath. I paused to tell her that I loved her and to ask her to say “Hello” to Daddy and all my grandparents for me. Then I finished reading to her how Rabbit ran off to go find Christopher Robin to help figure out how to get Pooh unstuck.”

I will miss my friend. Tomorrow I will fill my prayers with thankful gratitude for all the wisdom, love and blessings she brought to my life. Obituary information here.

Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons. Her newest adventure is as a travel agent with her own company, SGH Go Travel. Email her at sghgotravel@gmail.com.

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