Many wonderful people came out of the Avondale Mills Village family, people who contributed to good in the world even though they grew up in hard times, with big families, and not much of this world’s riches. They worked hard, played hard, and apparently got a good education at B.B. Comer School. My favorite one is, of course, Robert Earl Clifton, Sr.; but that is a story for another time. I knew the name Layton from radio and newspaper accounts of football and beauty contests and talent shows, but I am learning more about the people as I write this week.
I ran across an obituary in the Birmingham News a few weeks ago for Delores Layton Andrews, and I knew that name immediately, and the picture of the 85 year old woman showed her to be still very pretty. Delores was born to Mr. and Mrs. L. W. Layton, and the family lived on Maryland Avenue. It was a remarkable family of “D’s”: Delores and Dorothy and their brothers Doug, Dean, Dale, and Don. Their Dad was a gospel music enthusiast and sang in quartets. Delores had a deep bluesy voice, started singing publicly at age 13, and sang on a show many of you probably remember, Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour.
The boys had outstanding voices, and Doug started working in Sylacauga at WMLS where Curtis Liles employed so many local guys like Tom Bivin, John Crawford, Cato Craddock, etc. He met Tommy Charles working in the Montgomery radio market, and later went to Birmingham , met John Forney and got very much involved in sports announcing for the University of Alabama. He became the “Voice of the Tide,” doing play-by-play for both football and basketball for much of the seventies including the era of Coach Bryant, Ray Perkins, Bill Currie, Gene Stallings, Mike Dubose, Dennis Franchione, and even Bama basketball great, Wimp Sanderson. Dean and Dale excelled in high school football and later Dale was hired by Heflin Haynes as a water-ski instructor at Avondale’s Camp Helen about the time another B. B. Comer success story, Tom Bivin ,was life guard there. Dean had a traumatic car accident that resulted in a brain injury which prevented his fulfilling his plans to play college ball at Jacksonville State. Dorothy Layton Brown, the baby of the family, loved her family and wrote family history to be preserved for their descendants.
It was in July 1953 that Delores was named Miss Sylacauga, having been named first alternate in that contest in 1952. Sylacauga has long been a prominent player in the Miss Alabama contest. On August 13, just a few weeks later she sang “Blue Moon” on the stage of the Alabama Theater, accompanied by Stanley Malotte, organist. She was named first runner Miss Alabama. Incidentally, her accompanist in Sylacauga was gifted pianist, Grace Nealans. Her talent was lauded and she was one of three contestants chosen to perform at The Club in Birmingham. Our beloved recreation leaders, Maxye Veazey and Beth Yates along with Grace Nealans and her husband, Jack, director of the Sylacauga Chamber of Commerce, attended the contest. I love the description of her attire in the Sylacauga Advance: “She was dressed in beautiful clothes given her by Sylacauga merchants and for her final appearance she wore a lovely dress of aqua corduroy and satin created especially for her by the fashion department of Avondale Mills.” She was presented a gold Bulova watch. She also received a full scholarship from Mr. J. Craig Smith, to Birmingham Southern College. Here she was academically successful and appeared on Birmingham WBRC television on a show “Coffee Break.” Her major in college was Psychology, and she met and married her husband Bruce Andrews there. They had three girls and raised their family in Birmingham, Huntsville, and Gulf Shores.
Delores Layton Andrews finished strong as Director of St. Anne’s Home for Women where she impacted many lives as an addiction counselor. It was her own experiences with alcohol addiction that motivated her to help others who had this problem. Her Birmingham News obituary reads, “At the time of her death, she was proud to have maintained her sobriety for 37 years.”
The story of the Layton family is a Comer story, a Sylacauga story, an Avondale story, a story of success and weakness and ending with success. It is a story of life with its triumphs and tragedies. It is a reminder never to discount people because of where they live and how much money they make. It is a reminder that we are ultimately in charge of our own destinies so never give up. We cannot always control what happens to us, but we can control how we handle what comes our way. This family is a good example of that, and it was not so long ago at that.
Thanks to Tom Bivin for the Doug Layton Picture. Doug’s voice became his career, and he started with local radio station, WMLS in Sylacauga. Thanks to Sylacauga Advance, 1953, and the Birmingham News, 2022.