Written Words of Wisdom: The Letter That is Never Far From My Reach
Written by Renee Collins Cobb, M.Ed.
"You never know when your words will have an impact on those you encounter and how powerful words are even in my case- 47 years after I first received them."
I have shared this story with just a few people in life but I think as the context evolves, changes and becomes more meaningful now as each year has passed since 1973 when I was eleven years old- it now becomes relevant to others. You never know when your words will have an impact on those you encounter and how powerful words are even in my case 47 years after I first received them.
The author of these words was Lydia Hodson (who later become Lydia Hodson Copeland and as a broadcaster on WKYT), a local Lexington, KY teenager who found national fame after being named America’s Junior Miss almost 50 years ago. She was America’s sweetheart long before Meg Ryan or Jennifer Anniston ever graced a TV set or big screen. 2021 will mark the 30th anniversary of her death following a lengthy battle with Hodgkin's disease at a way too young age of 37.
After she won America's Junior Miss - Lydia went on to earn a degree in International Affairs through Communications from George Washington University. She also struck up a friendship with Diane Sawyer, another former America’s Junior Miss who went on to become a famous television journalist and visited the family several times through the years. Lydia worked in media, too, hosting TV shows in Lexington and Louisville. She wrote professionally and organized her own company, Lydia Copeland Productions.
Also after Lydia won the title - her 16 year old self wrote back to my then 11- year old self- a young girl who was so excited about her winning America’s Junior Miss that I wrote to her asking her how I could be like her when I grew up and proclaiming her as the “World’s Greatest Jr Miss ever” - and as a result, received much more than a typical form letter stating generic information about how to get involved with the scholarship program, etc....
"I received a handwritten letter in an envelope with an Eisenhower 8 cent stamp and on thin fragile stationery embossed with daisies and written in gold ink."
That letter is always within close proximity and lives on my desk at home- in clear sight for when I need to revisit the wise advise in this letter. Today was one of those days and as I read it today- I also made effort to record the words in my computer as the ink is fading and the paper is fragile- but below is the text for those who are interested. I realize now - many years after Lydia sadly passed away almost 30 years ago at age 37- how much this letter had to do with the way I choose to live my life, how I refined and practiced my talent in music (to the point of receiving a full scholarship to attend college) and how I went about treating people during the course of my life.
"We must never cease from exploration and at the end of all of our exploring, we will arrive at the place where we began...and we will know it for the first time." ---T.S. Eliot
T.S. Eliot once said "we must never cease from exploration and at the end of all of our exploring, we will arrive at the place where we began...and we will know it for the first time. As long ago as it was, that moment is sealed in my mind like concrete as I still remember the exact moment we went to the post office one day and my Mom handed me the hand addressed letter that contained written words of encouragement and wisdom around the value of education, life-long learning talent and having a loving and caring heart and it is a moment that will never escape me with written words on fragile stationary in gold ink with embossed daisies...never ever far from my mental or physical reach.
The time that was spent in dispensing this advice upon my request- while serving me well at age 11- continues to serve me well at age 58 and my true regret in life is not having met this amazing women face-to-face but my true joy in life is that I have this treasure and this story to tell for the rest of my own life. Recently while searching through some old Lexington magazines at the Peddler’s Mall- a cover of one with Lydia’s beautiful face came right into my line of vision for no reason at all.
"My friends- the days are long at times but the years are so...incredibly...short. Make a difference in someone’s life in some way. You may truly never know how important your words to someone were or are...but that’s OK too."
Lydia Hodson’s Letter to Renee Collins in 1973
Dear Renee, What a very sweet letter you wrote to me. I am so happy to know you the little bit that I do and I hope someday that we shall meet. You know, being eleven years old seems the right age to start thinking about the Jr. Miss Scholarship program. The contest wants young women, like yourself, to have the chance to make something of themselves and hopefully to help you help others! That is the one reason that your school work plays an important part in the Jr. Miss. You must make the most of your education from now until you are in high school and certainly from then to college. Learning is very exciting if you give a little of yourself to it. Talent is another part of the Jr. Miss that you can think of starting now and even if Jr. Miss is not the reason for it, you should be aware of your talents God has given you. Maybe you like to sing or dance, play an instrument recite or write poetry or stories, sew or cook, do science experiments, gymnastics or acting – there are so may ways to express yourself and your should find out which ones you can be happiest with, Renee’.
And finally, Jr. Miss wants to know how girls feel towards other people, how sincere and loving that are. So the best advice I can give you is to care for those around you- see if you can help a shy person in school feel good or cheer up a brother or sister or any other relative, help out a neighbor and find out what other people feel and think. Oh, and Renee – I’m not at all the World’s Greatest Jr. Miss – as you wrote – I was just one of the many many girls lucky to have a part of it.