Lori Sneed was invited to friend and coworker Daryn Kagan’s home for a party.
Both worked at CNN in Atlanta, Kagan as an anchor and correspondent, Sneed in the public information division. There was only one problem. Sneed was a quadriplegic, and Kagan’s home had 20 stone steps.
“It couldn’t be less wheelchair accessible,” Kagan recalled saying apologetically, in a story in the Springfield (Ohio) News-Sun in 2012. That didn’t stop the Gulfport native from enjoying this holiday party, however.
“Just save me a parking space out front,” Sneed told her. “I’ll call you when I get to your house so you can send five of the cutest guys at the party out to carry me up those stairs. Remember, it’s really important that they’re cute!”
That vignette captures Sneed and her attitude toward life, said her father, Shorty Sneed.
Lori Aimee Sneed died July 12 from liver cancer at age 46.
‘She survived so much’
“She survived so much, and the liver cancer seemed to come from nowhere,” Sneed said. “We didn’t tell her it was cancer, but she knew something was going on.”
Sneed suffered a spinal cord injury in a car crash when she was in her freshman year at the University of Mississippi, in 1991. The injury left her paralyzed and in a wheelchair, but Sneed didn’t let her new limitations define her life.
She completed rehabilitation at Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where patients were encouraged to do things such as get on the dance floor in their wheelchairs to overcome their fears. After a year at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, she returned to Ole Miss to get her degree.
“I remember she and Cooper Manning had this thing one day where they decided to see who knew the most people at Ole Miss, so they were in the student union seeing who all they knew. I think he won by one or two people,” Shorty Sneed said.
Instead of wondering why she couldn’t go live in the big city like her friends did following graduation, she did just that: She moved to Atlanta, and after doing something that was thoroughly Lori, she got her dream job in 1997.
“She had gone to the movies, and of course, she was in her wheelchair, but she wasn’t going to sit in the wheelchair at the movies. So she asked a nearby man, ‘Can you pick me up, please?’ He replied, ‘Well, I’m married.’ Of course, she meant pick her up and put her in the regular theater seat, so he did. In her own mind, she was not in a wheelchair. That was Douglas Lindauer, and she got to become good friends with him and his wife. He happened to work at CNN and it just so happened that his dad’s best friend was Tom Johnson, who was president of CNN.
“He said he knew 10 seconds after he met her they would have to hire her,” Shorty Sneed said of Lindauer. “So he got her entree with Tom Johnson, and she was hired. She worked three days a week, working with the public and with customers. She drove herself to work. Tom Johnson was enthralled with her.He has a daughter, but he considered her like a daughter, too.”
Keeping it funny
Sneed recalled his daughter calling her parents one day to say she was going to casually “walk” by in the background on air that day.
“She was describing what she would be wearing. Like we would have no idea that was her,” Sneed said, smiling.
While in Atlanta, Sneed used her wit after hours also, doing improvisational comedy.
“We put quote marks around standup comedy,” her father said. “When she would come out on stage, she would say, ‘I know you want your money back because you heard I was a standup comedian.’”
In 2006, Sneed suffered a ruptured intestine, which led to sepsis. She was in a coma for 77 days but recovered and had brain surgery in 2008. She was unable to work after that and had 24-hour assistance.
“There were some wonderful, glorious people from Zimbabwe who took care of her,” her uncle Bill Henry said. “They are coming in for the funeral and will sing a traditional Zimbabwean song for her.”
Return to Gulfport
In August 2015, her mother, Patti Sneed, “had a premonition she needed to bring Lori home,” Shorty Sneed said. “Something told her that she wasn’t going to be able to be so far away from her family. My wife has been so involved in my daughter’s illness. So dedicated, and very well read and knowledgable in spinal cord injuries.”
So Sneed moved to a little house a couple of miles from her parents’ house in Gulfport, where she continued her work as a watercolor artist.
“She was a great artist,” Henry said. “She had a style that was distinctly hers, a blend of abstract and realism. She was very good with colors.”
A longtime animal lover, Sneed got to enjoy her last days with Maxie the cat, who Henry described as “almost doglike and affable.”
‘Beautiful inside and out’
Her father said he often described Sneed as “beautiful inside and out.” Her uncle said beyond her humor and strength, her kindness was one of Sneed’s most outstanding qualities.
“For me, the thing about Lori was, when you were with her, she always made you feel as if you were the nicest thing that happened to her,” Henry said. “She never said ‘I.’ It was ‘you.’ She asked how you were doing, she’d compliment you about something you were wearing. She’d talk about you. It’s like you were the absolute highlight of her day.”