Saxon, pillar of community, passes

Published 6:20 pm Thursday, July 19, 2012

A beloved member of Clanton’s West End community passed away Tuesday.

Gussie Saxon, 91, was a retired teacher, active member of her church and the founder of the West End Neighborhood Watch group.

Recognized face: Gussie Saxon would have been 92 years old Sunday.

She lived off 11th Street—in three different houses—for 60 years, and her home was a haven for those she tutored and a gateway to the West End community for politicians.

Those running for office and those already in office would stop by to talk with her—sometimes for hours, and sometimes for her permission to put their campaign signs in her yard, knowing how much weight her voice carried in the community.

“She was definitely a community servant,” said Greg DeJarnett, principal at Chilton County High School and one of Saxon’s family friends. “She wanted to see her community and the lives of people improve for the better.”

Saxon’s teaching career began before racial integration was implemented in schools.

She started as a substitute at the City School, which eventually became West End Elementary School.

Saxon was then relocated to Thorsby High School, where she taught for 22 years.

But the job for which Saxon was perhaps best known—and most appreciated—was the free summer school program she held in her garage for nine years.

For six weeks each summer, she taught preschool through eighth grade, often borrowing books and other supplies from local schools.

“She enjoyed kids, and she did it for years,” said Wendell Saxon, Gussie’s son. “She never asked for a penny, and if she took one it was just to buy some food for the kids or something like that.”

Liz Huntley of Clanton attended Saxon’s summer school program when she was in sixth grade and described it as “one of the neatest things [Saxon] did.”

“It was very rigid and very helpful for most of us,” Huntley said. “It had a lot to do with our academic success. That’s how dedicated she was.”

Huntley, attorney and member of Auburn University’s Board of Trustees, said Saxon’s “nuggets of wisdom” she shared with her students have stuck with her throughout her adult life.

Huntley recalled Saxon tapping on the desks with a small ruler to get the children’s attention.

One time, those ruler taps were directed at Huntley, who was focused on fixing her hair instead of her lesson.

“She said, ‘You need to get out of your hair. You better remember that a smart head is better than a pretty head any day,’” Huntley said, laughing. “She was so tough.”

Saxon retired from education in 1986, and in 1991, she founded West End’s neighborhood watch.

“She worked faithfully in that up until her health wouldn’t allow her to do it anymore,” DeJarnett said. “She believed in blooming where she was planted and lifting up her community and instilling a sense of pride in young people. I’ll always remember her for that.”

Wendell Saxon said his family had a message for community members: “Thank you for all the love and kindness you’ve shown during this difficult time. Bless Chilton County, and bless West End in particular.

“She touched a lot of lives, a lot of people. She’s had a rewarding life.”

In lieu of flowers, Saxon’s family asks for donations to be made one of her favorite causes:

•The Chilton County Chapter of Alabama State University Alumni. Saxon was the treasurer of the chapter, and donations can be sent to her home, 114 11th Street in Clanton.

•Thorsby High School Student Council, 54 Opportunity Drive, Thorsby, 35171.

•The Todd-Saxon Christian Service Scholarship, C/O AME Church, Montgomery-Selma District, P.O. Box 170096, Birmingham, 35217.

•The American Legion Auxiliary Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 606, Montgomery, 36101.

Funeral services will be held Saturday, July 21 at 2 p.m. from Fountain Chapel A.M.E. Church, 11012th St., Clanton, with the Rev. Cynthia Jones officiating.

Interment will follow in Agee Memorial Cemetery, Clanton, with Ross-Clayton Funeral Home Inc. directing.

A family visitation will be held Friday, July 20 at Fountain Chapel A.M.E. Church from 6–8 p.m.

Managing editor Stephen Dawkins contributed to this story.