Cheerleader photo discovered after 72 yearsBy LEE PARIS,
Dressed for the game, Ole Miss cheerleader and Delta sophomore beauty, Sara Simmons, left the Delta Gamma house late morning on a cool November Saturday in 1946. The opponent was Mississippi State and was one of only two campus battles for the '46 Rebels.
Just as she was nearing The Grove, a young man in his teens approached Sara and said, "Excuse me, ma'am. You are the prettiest girl I have ever seen. May I take your picture?” The 16-year-old was Henry Paris visiting campus for the day with his parents from Lexington, Miss. Henry would return to campus two years later as a freshman and would himself become an Ole Miss cheerleader as well as elected 1952 Colonel Rebel (now Mr. Ole Miss).
Returning home, Henry, with excitement, took his film to the drug store on the Lexington Square. It was sent from there to Hammond Photo Service in Meridian, processed, then returned developed to Lexington. Young Henry was quite proud of his pictures from his visit to the university, especially his big moment snapping Sara. Once he had boastfully shared the picture with every buddy in Holmes County he could, Henry placed the picture in his high school scrapbook where it would remain for 72 years. As with many high school treasures, the scrapbook found its way to Mama's attic, boxed and hidden.
During those 72 years, as it is with so many of the Ole Miss family, the lives of Sara and her young photographer would be intertwined with many threads.
Sara would marry Ole Miss football legend, J.W. Wobble Davidson. Wobble had been a star lineman for the Rebels and served as co-captain of the 1941 team before serving his country in the Pacific during World War II. After the war he returned to his beloved university, serving a season under Red Drew before joining John Vaught's staff in leading the 1947 Rebels to their first SEC Championship.
Sara was much a part of the Rebels' championship, serving as house mom to the team in the dorms and ever being the supportive wife to Wobble through the next 40 years as an Ole Miss coach's wife and for 13 years thereafter until Wobble's death in 1999.
Henry's across-the-street neighbors, Bud and Meta Moore, were quite involved with the coaching staff and would reconnect Henry to Sara and Wobble. Henry married another Delta Gamma beauty, Rose Marie Leonard of Kosciusko in 1954. They had three more in their family - Lisa, Rachel Marie and Vivian - who would share Delta Gamma bonds with Sara. A deep friendship spanning the generations developed in those 72 years beginning with the lost, but not forgotten, picture. Over many meals and visits the picture taken was remembered and laughed about with Sara's and Henry's families.
And then one December day in 2018, Henry, digging through old memorabilia, found the picture. He showed it to Rose and a few others before misplacing it for a couple of weeks and finding it again. His son, Lee, offered to take the picture to be framed before giving it to Sara.
Lee carefully placed the 72-year-old photograph on the console in his car on a flat space in front of the car radio. Fifteen minutes after leaving his parent's house in Wellsgate he reached for the photo only to discover to his utter horror that the picture had slid under the radio into the abyss of the car's panels. He and a neighbor, Bob Taggert, worked for an hour trying to coax the picture out to no avail. The following morning Lee took his car to Deal's Auto and asked for a miracle. Tony and his team delivered just such retrieving the picture.
On January 2, 2019, exactly 72 years, two months and 14 days after taking the photograph of the 19-year-old beauty, Henry and his son, Lee, presented the often discussed, but never seen, picture to Sara at Oxford's Elmcroft Retirement Home while she was sipping wine with several friends. The moment was surreal. The circle was completed in Oxford where it had been all begun in 1946.
Lee Paris is a Northsider.