We sent Christmas cards this year for the first time in a couple of years. (When I say “we,” I mean “my lovely first wife,” of course.) Elizabeth Schuett’s came back as undeliverable. I went to the internet to track down her new address, and that’s when I found out that she died in 2007, a fact we would have learned had we kept up with sending cards.
Elizabeth was one of the people in my life who created me. I met her when I was in high school, after returning from GHP in 1970. My love for theatre had been reignited that summer, and so I joined the Newnan Playmakers upon my return. (Actually, I rejoined: I had been involved from sixth through eighth grades.)
Elizabeth was new-ish to town and was at the center of a small, hardcore group of creatives who had coalesced at that time and place. She was a self-described “tough old broad,” a drinker, a smoker, profane and funny. She was also one of the greatest ladies I’ve ever known, educated and kind and creative.
Over the next two years, Elizabeth took me under her wing and began to show me the possibilities in life. She owned a knit shop downtown, and it was the salon for what passed as intelligentsia in Newnan. We all hung out there in the back room, drinking coffee, make jokes, making plans, and talking, talking, talking.
It was Elizabeth who first made me aware of what “cosmopolitan” meant: she had lived other places, done other things, had other lives. She taught me that the horizon was not a wall but a goal. She showed me what it meant to go to a great restaurant, to attend the symphony, to explore ideas and their expression.
She showed me that not everyone would always think I was weird—or that my ideas and dreams were foolish—or that I would inevitably fail to find love or happiness if I didn’t learn to act like everyone else. She accepted me—and others—for not only who we were but who we needed to be.
I went off to UGA and returned to find that the gang had split off from the Playmakers to form the Newnan Repertory Company. They were frustrated with the old group’s hopelessly unimaginative approach to theatre, and it was their spirit that flowed on down to the Newnan Community Theatre Company. I picked the group up from them; if you ever benefited from NCTC, you have benefited from Elizabeth Schuett.
Eventually, she found the restrictions of Newnan too maddening, so she closed the shop and for reasons I never found very clear moved to her ex-husband Robert’s hometown, Gibsonburg, OH, where she taught high school and college, and wrote a syndicated column for years.
During those years we kept in touch sporadically. I would offer her a job in CommArts at GHP; citing the hellish heat, she would decline. We’d send her Christmas cards. She’d email. But we never communicated on a regular basis, so it is comforting to me that while the news of her death saddens me, I am happy that sometime in 2006 I wrote her a letter that told her everything that I have told you here. I thanked her over and over for making that pitiful, skinny Baptist kid into me.
Thank you again, Elizabeth Schuett.