By Jerry Zezima
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
I am writing from my manor in the manner of Miss Manners, using all manner of mannerly ways to say that Judith Martin (aka the aforementioned Miss Manners) has kindly and graciously accepted our invitation to attend the NSNC conference in Indianapolis next June and receive the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award.
I began my quest to track down this legendary doyenne of etiquette by contacting her syndicate, Universal Uclick, only to find out, after sending three emails and leaving the same number of telephone messages, that the publicity person was not so public after all. In fact, he left the syndicate a couple of years ago, even though his name, which I mercifully forget, was still on the Universal Uclick website and his recording was still on his phone. Perhaps I should have done the polite thing and filed a missing-person report.
Then I contacted Alan McDermott, Mrs. Martin’s editor, who also used to be Erma Bombeck’s editor. Mr. McDermott (I’d call him Alan, but I want to use proper etiquette here) responded with the following email:
I’ve sent your email on to Judith, who is traveling in Europe. She will be back in a few days, and I’m sure she will get in touch with you. A nice honor! I recall going to your convention years ago on two separate occasions, once to honor Mary McGrory and again to honor Richard Reeves, both of whom I edited.
Sure enough, Mrs. Martin called me a few days later to say that she was thrilled to be receiving the award. I told her that we were thrilled she would be receiving it. She was as witty, gracious and polite on the phone as she is in her columns.
When I asked for her address so I could send her a formal letter, which would be the proper thing to do, Mrs. Martin told me that she lives in Washington, D.C.
“It’s too bad you didn’t receive the award this year,” I said. “We had our conference in Washington.”
“That is perfectly all right,” Mrs. Martin responded politely. “I will happily travel to Indianapolis. This is, after all, quite an honor.”
I wrote Mrs. Martin a letter, on white paper with a boldface letterhead, and signed it in blue-black ink in my best handwriting. Here it is:
Dear Mrs. Martin:
Thank you so much for your recent phone call and for taking the time to talk with me. I’m thrilled that you’re thrilled about the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award because we on the board of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists were thrilled to vote for you, which makes everyone, of course, thrilled.
I thought it only fitting and proper to formally announce the honor in this letter, which you can either frame or, considering it’s from me, use to wrap fish, which should later be served with white wine.
I have been a fan of yours for many years. You have a delicious wit and a sure touch that make your column a joy to read. It’s instructive, too, especially for me because when my wife and I go out to dinner, I am always unsure of which plastic utensil to use when eating pizza or if I should just pick up the greasy slices with my hands and then wipe them off delicately (my hands, not the pizza slices) with those stamp-size paper napkins.
At any rate, you are a gem, a true legend in our field, and we at the NSNC are (here’s that word again) thrilled that you will be in Indianapolis for our 2015 conference, which runs from June 26 to June 28. The awards dinner is Saturday, June 27. I would say that I can’t wait to meet you, but I guess I’ll have to.
Until then, Mrs. Martin, take care and please continue to tell all of us, in your inimitable way, how to mind our manners.
Mrs. Martin sent back an email saying that she very much looks forward seeing us at our conference next year. This gives us, Gentle Readers, eight months to practice our etiquette and to remember which fork to use during the salad course. It also gives us time to learn how to act in a civilized manner in the hospitality suite, which I am sure Mrs. Martin will visit. She will, of course, be most welcome.
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Jerry Zezima writes a syndicated humor column for his hometown paper, The Stamford (Conn.) Advocate.