The look on his face is classic Mr. Mimms. I should know. I had seen that look hundreds of times before I summoned the courage to snap this candid photo for our high school yearbook. I can only imagine what he was thinking!
As I look at this picture that I took over 25 years ago, I fondly remember a man who had such a profound influence on my life and the lives of countless others. Hopefully for the better, I am the writer I am today in large part because of him.
Louie Mimms — affectionately referred to by his students at Lake Placid (FL) High School as MOMM — “Mean Old Mister Mimms — was anything but mean. Although in retrospect, he did seem a little old (62) to a bunch of 16 and 17-year-old high school kids back in the early 1980s.
As a freshman in high school in fall 1980, I began hearing horror stories from upper classmen about this hard (and mean) English teacher who I would have to face my junior and senior years. To make matters worse, I would have to walk by his class my first two years of high school, all the while trying to avoid the stare that you see in the picture above. Let’s just say that I was easily intimidated in those days.
When I finally started 11th grade in 1982, I was both anxious and excited about learning English from Mr. Mimms. While I mostly earned A’s and B’s (10th Grade Geometry and 11th Grade Algebra II excepted) and considered myself a good student, I desired to excel in Mr. Mimms’ English classes.
It did not take very long to realize a couple of things about MOMM. First, he was not really mean, but he expected his students to treat him with the utmost respect. He was certainly deserving of our respect, having fought for our country as a fighter pilot in World War II. Major Mimms would serve for 23 years in the United States Air Force before “retiring” and beginning his teaching career. I don’t know if he was ever stationed at Holloman AFB near Alamogordo, NM where I currently live.
Perhaps because of his military background, he always wore a tie (like in the picture) and he would address us by Mister or Miss and our last names. Of course, it was a given that we address him as Mr. Mimms. It usually only took one time for the class clown to incur Mr. Mimms’ “wrath” — he did not suffer fools lightly. There were very few repeat offenders. While that sounds “old-school” today, that was the norm for Mr. Mimms and for his students back in the day.
I also quickly learned that Mr. Mimms would do all he could to help those students who truly wanted to learn English. If you were serious about your studies, he would bend over backwards to see that you succeeded in his class. If you were a “bad egg” who didn’t want to study or learn, then he would allow you to reap what you had sown. He had a passion for learning and a passion for teaching. That inspired me and many others to want to be “good eggs.”
Lastly, I realized what it took to be a really “good egg.” Mr. Mimms did not give out A’s indiscriminately (especially to those who dared to use the made-up word “irregardless” instead of “regardless”). To receive an A in his class, you would have to earn it. I don’t remember how long it took, but I finally earned a coveted A from Mr. Mimms. Like no other teacher who I ever sat under in high school or after, I wanted to do my very best for this man who set the highest standards for himself and for his students. Those are the kind of teachers who leave their mark in this world and who you remember a quarter century later.
After graduating from high school, I would come home to Lake Placid during semester breaks and in the summer. I would often have occasion to drive by the Mimms’ home, located on a hairpin curve on Placid Lakes Drive. Every now and then, I would see Mr. Mimms out in his yard, tending to his fruit trees.
I always loved to stop and visit with him. Always in character (at least initially), he would grumble something “mean” about why I was in his yard. After a short pause, he would break character and begin what would always be memorable visits. He usually gave me a couple of grocery sacks of fruit to take with me.
My wife, who was three years behind me in school, never had the opportunity to take Mr. Mimms’ English classes before he retired. She never visited with him in his front yard. However, I will never forget the time when I took her for a ride on my parents’ Sea Doo on the same lake where Mr. Mimms lived.
As we neared his home, I slowed down and began yelling, “That’s Mr. Mimms’ house. That’s Mr. Mimms’ house.” The only problem was that I had slowed down too much to keep our balance. We both toppled from the water craft, making a huge splash in the lake, about 50 feet from the Mimm’s shoreline. In the incredibly long time that it took us to re-mount our water transportation, my wife and I had one of the most spirited “discussions” of our marriage!
After Brenda and I left Lake Placid for seminary, I lost touch with Mr. Mimms. I have thought of him often over the intervening years, wondering what had become of him. Turns out he was living in Ocala, FL with his wife of 67 years. I received word last week, through a Facebook friend, that Mr. Mimms passed away peacefully on January 5 at the age of 89. MOMM was now gone, but would not soon be forgotten.
As I try to conclude this post, words seem to escape me. So I’ll just paraphrase the last words typed by Richard Dryfuss’ character at the end of one of my favorite movies, “Stand By Me”:
“Although I haven’t seen him in more than ten years, I know I’ll miss him. I never had any teacher later on like the one I had when I was in 11th and 12th grade English. Does anybody?”