Family and friends gathered July 29 at First Congregational Church to remember the life of Clara Yates Hayley, a long-time Atlanta educator who died July 22 at age 87.
Ambassador Andrew Young eulogized her as a member of strong generation of African Americans who made Atlanta the progressive city that it is today.
“They were educated and committed to serve,” Young said. They along with the few progressive whites were able to work together to make Atlanta grow and change, he said.
Hayley’s daughter, Clara H. Axam and two grandsons were among those paying tribute to Hayley, who serve as a teacher for students and teachers for more than 30 years in the Atlanta Public School System.
Axam said her mother was a great teacher without being a preacher. “She taught by example,” Axam said. “She rarely lectured. She showed you what was the right thing to do.”
A native Atlantan, Clara Yates Hayley was born to Clayton R. Yates and Mae Maxwell Yates on May 12, 1926. She grew up adoring her older brother, Clayton R. Yates, Jr. (who preceded her in death) and enlisting a sister she adopted, 0llivette Allison (who preceded her in death) as her partner in crime.
Hayley taught every grade from kindergarten to 7th, but her heart was kindergarten. Asked why, she said the little ones were full of imagination and wonder and always challenged her creativity. When she discovered that one of her fifth graders had somehow managed to slide through the system without learning to read, she put her family to work every evening creating an illustrated comic strip of the student’s favorite super heroes, Batman and Robin, laced with “wham!” “Barn!” “pow!” “Zap!” to teach her to read.
In the latter years of her career, Hayley created the Atlanta Public School system’s first in-service professional development program in reading and math. She found a new joy in helping teachers improve their teaching skills. When the schools threatened to close their doors rather than desegregate in the late sixties, Clara was among the leadership of black teachers who prepared to open a school to continue the education of black students.
Hayley’s grandfather, Leigh Maxwell, was a Congregational minister, and she followed in his footsteps, speaking as a young woman for the International Sunday School Association and, for many years, serving as a devoted Sunday school teacher.
Many never knew that Hayley was an accomplished classical pianist. She and her childhood friend, Mattiwilda Dobbs, trained together at a time when lessons were conditioned on reporting to the home of the Atlanta Symphony orchestra conductor through the backdoor. She loved music so much, there was only one thing that could interrupt her potential career path — James Reece Hayley whom she loved, and married in 1948. They became proud parents of two children, Clara Lenore Hayley (Axam) and James R. Hayley, Jr. (Pete).
Hayley, a fabulous cook, learned at the elbow of her blind great grandmother who cooked everything by feel. Her family was spoiled with fresh bread for every meal and never experienced canned or frozen vegetables. She was an avid reader and bridge player.
Her children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews and the many children she adopted along the way often sought her out for advice. She could keep a secret, so you could tell her anything. And when you were done telling your story, you could count on her to tell it like it was. She always had some practical advice, even when you didn’t want to hear it — always delivered with a hug and followed up with plenty of love to see you through the crisis.
Besides her daughter, Hayley leaves her loving memories to be cherished by her son Pete Hayley (Denise);Eight grandchildren: Tony Axam, Jr. (Hilary), Necole McGhee, Cinque Axam (Mellonee), Tasha M. Axam, Jaren H. Cameron, Dana Hayley, Kaci Axam and Jay Stallings; Eleven great-grandchildren: Michael Cameron, Jr., Tyler Axam, Chiloh Cameron, Trajan Axam, Alexis Stallings, Jamison Cameron, Jonah Axam, Parker Axam, Layla Axam, Empress Hayley, and Treysen Cameron.
In lieu of flowers, the family asked that donations be made in her memory to Spelman College or to First Congregational Church, UCC.