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Elizabeth Sherrill: Remembering a Guideposts Legend

The brilliant storyteller and editor helped create the Guideposts voice we know and love today.

Elizabeth Sherrill with her husband, John (photo by Shawn G. Henry)
Credit: Shawn G. Henry

Elizabeth Sherrill (February 14, 1928—May 20, 2023), affectionately known as Tib or Tibby, recently passed away at the age 95.  What a remarkable woman she was and a profound influence on the Guideposts stories and devotionals we know today. She was after all a brilliant storyteller.

It seems appropriate that she was born on Valentine’s Day because she exuded love. For her family, for her colleagues, for the subjects of the countless stories she wrote and edited, for Guideposts readers, for her faith community, for God’s beautiful world and the people in it.

A founding contributor, it’s hard to imagine how Guideposts would have ever happened without her; because of her contributions, it became a much-loved venue for true personal stories of faith in action. She was the embodiment of hope and inspiration. Those of us who have worked for the organization and written for it all learned from Tib. In fact, she was not only a model of a compassionate storyteller but a wonderful teacher of writing.

A Natural Gift of Writing

Back in 1951, when Guideposts was a fledgling publication, her husband, John, was hired as an editor. A natural at chasing down true first-person inspirational stories, he naturally shared with his wife what he was doing and discovered in the process what insights she had to offer, along with hr natural gift for writing.

Of course, she would never have put it that way. Modest in the extreme, self-effacing and glad to cede the limelight to others, she found a perfect calling at this little magazine in coaxing stories out of others and then helping them share their highly personal accounts of God at work in their lives for an audience of millions. She brought empathy and spiritual depth to what otherwise might have remained commonplace testimony. She never forgot the needs of the reader.

She and John met shortly after the war, in which he had served bravely with the American forces in Europe. They had both, independently, decided to go to university in Switzerland in those bleak post-war years, and they met aboard the ship en route. Clearly it was love at mere glance because the two students were soon to be husband and wife.

Meeting Eleanor Roosevelt

Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt happened to be in Geneva at the same time—working, as always, on the peace between nations—and wanted to meet some young Americans. She was introduced to Tibby.

It’s a scene I can easily picture, the two soulful women sharing their views for hours, both of them with extraordinary gifts of listening. Both slated to fill deeper roles as women than the culture would have ascribed to them.

John would bring home stories, and Tibby—the writer, not just the ‘50s housewife—would polish them up. First quietly and then not so secretively, the two becoming a dedicated team. Len LeSourd, then editor of Guideposts, soon realized he had two fine writer-editors in one husband-and-wife team. Couldn’t they do more? And indeed, they did. So much more.

From Stories to Books

Not only were they writing for Guideposts, their stories often expanded beyond the magazine. There was David Wilkerson, a dynamic young preacher in New York reaching out to the gangs of the city; his story, with the Sherills’ help, became The Cross and the Switchblade. There was Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch woman who had shielded Jews and Dutch resistance workers during the Nazi occupation; her story became the best-selling The Hiding Place, co-written with John and Elizabeth Sherrill.

There was God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew with the Sherrills and They Speak with Other Tongues, John’s own coming-to-faith story. The two were spiritual pilgrims, endlessly curious wanderers who visited virtually every continent on earth and always brought home stories.

Tibby was at her most profound and her most deeply personal in the hundreds of devotions she wrote for Daily Guideposts, now Walking in Grace. The spiritual insights she fearlessly shared with devoted readers over five decades reverberate to this day. Indeed, she set the standard for Guideposts devotions and for the writers who followed in her footsteps.

The Consummate Writing Teacher

In 1967, when Guideposts launched its first Writers Workshop, bringing the winning aspiring writers to New York for a week of intensive training, the magazine staff turned to Tibby. Would she help as a teacher? I can imagine her saying modestly, “Well, I’ll try.”

Not only did she try but she succeeded in extraordinary ways and for the next few decades she would be the guiding light of those workshops, not only for the winners but for all of us who’d come to Guideposts to work on staff. Her toughness as an editor was belied by her soft voice. After you spent a week learning from Tibby, you couldn’t sit down and write without her words and guidance swirling in your head. It was true for workshopper Sue Monk Kidd. For Marion Bond West. For Roberta Messner.

Editor-in-Chief Edward Grinnan, who came to the workshop shortly after he was hired at Guideposts in 1986 as an assistant editor, had a master’s degree and awards in writing from top-notch schools, and as he’d tell you today, he learned more from Tibby in that one week—more useful, practical advice—than he had in years of writing programs. “She was by far the best writing teacher I ever had.”

Tibby and John, Together in Heaven

Tibby and John moved to a retirement community in 2009 and John died in 2017, an insuperable loss for Tibby. She missed him every day. When I would call her up, we often spent much time talking about him and typically, she asked about me and about the Guideposts staff.

I can picture the two of them together now, inseparable in death as in life. Their timeless Guideposts stories, their memorable books, their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren survive them. For those of us blessed to know Tib professionally, her voice will be with us forever, in our hearts and our work.

More Elizabeth Sherrill Stories You May Enjoy 

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