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180917 September 17, 2018

My Memories of Billy Byrom
By Don Wynn

    I have some very vivid memories of Billy Byrom that I would like to share.  In fact, I believe every athlete from Lee during those years has some fond memories of Billy. He was a very good athlete in every sport and was a good guy too.  Everybody liked him and was eager to follow his leadership. He was deserving of his role as a captain and leader. 

    He was not loud and didn’t do any ‘trash talking’.  I guess he preferred to let his performance on the field do his talking for him.  He was a fine team-mate and set the standard for how athletes should act.  He listened to his coaches and did what was asked of him.  He was good to start with and probably got better at practice every day.  That is just the kind of guy he was.  I never saw him after he graduated from Lee but I am sure he became a fine man. 

    It just added to his persona that he had a very cool car and always took immaculate care of it.  I don’t think I ever saw that car when it wasn’t clean or when it hadn’t had a recent wax job.  It was a white 1960 Chevrolet with a V8 engine.  It had red trim on the outside and white vinyl seats with red trim.  Billy would have been cool without this car but it just made him even cooler.

    During the 1965 school year, I was on 2 teams with Billy. He was a captain on both the football team (the 1964 team) and also on the track team (the 1965 team).  I was a snot-nosed sophomore just trying to keep from embarrassing myself.  I have memories about Billy on both teams.

The 1964 Football Team

    On the 1964 Football Team, we struggled.  This was the first season that Coach Wilson was the Head Coach.  Late in the season, the team went to Gadsden to play them on their home field.  We were 0 and something and Gadsden was 8-0 and at the top of the state rankings.  The outlook for the game was pretty dismal for us but Coach Max Burleson had a plan which depended upon Billy.  

    Coach Burleson and Billy really had a strong bond and I think Billy may have been Coach Burleson’s all-time favorite athlete at Lee.  You could just tell by the way they interacted.

    Coach spent the entire bus trip down there sitting with Billy who was our star running back.  “Billy, Do you think you can score on the kickoff?  I think you can.”  We all worshipped Coach Burleson and when he said something, it was a fact.  He must have talked to Billy about the kickoff for an hour or two.  Then Coach went to every player on the return team and said “Billy will score on the kickoff if you make your block.  Can you do that? I think you can!”  One after the other, he spoke to every guy.  

    When we left the locker room before kickoff, Coach was at the door with a word of encouragement for each player on the kickoff team calling out to them by name as they passed by.  “Don, remember Billy will score if you make your block.”

    We took the field and Gadsden kicked the ball deep to Billy.  It had rained and the field was wet with little pools of water scattered around. Billy caught the ball clean and sprinted to our side of the field before making his turn toward the goal.  One by one, each of our blockers made a play and Billy outran the stragglers across the line.  We made the extra point and led the #1 team in the state.  I can remember that ecstatic feeling still today.

    They eventually wore us down and took the lead in the second half.  Gadsden went on to win the game but Billy scored on the kickoff just like Coach said he would.

The 1965 Track Team

    Late winter that year, I was on the track Team.  Billy was the Captain.  Somehow, our Track Coach, Coach Thomas decided that we would start the season at a state-wide, indoor track meet that was to be held in Birmingham.  It was a Friday/Saturday meet.  We were going to spend the night on the facility where the meet was being held, no fancy hotels for us.  This was before plastic trash bags so I am pretty sure my luggage consisted of a brown paper sack from the Star Market Grocery Store in 5 Points.  We also went down there in private cars.  I don’t remember a single parent going.  In fact, I think we took only two cars.  Coach Thomas drove one and Billy drove the other.   Somehow, I was lucky enough to be in Billy’s car.  I think John Esslinger and Ken Martz were in that car too but am not certain.  Regardless of who was in the car, I am sure they have vivid memories of the trip just like I have.

    We did not caravan or anything.  Leaving Huntsville around noon on Friday, we just loaded up and took off.  This was before I-65 was finished so we were on state highways that went through a lot of small country towns along the way.  By some miracle, we arrived at the site of the meet and saw some preliminary events.  After a while, Coach arrived and we started to prepare for our events as a team.

    The weather was pretty bleak and it started to snow.  There were light flurries at first but the flakes got bigger and bigger until it felt like God was throwing snowballs at us straight from the sky.  It covered the ground and started to accumulate very quickly.  We were all excited about the meet and even more when the snow started falling.

    Coach got worried that we could get stuck in Birmingham in a blizzard and decided that we should withdraw from the meet and head home.  Just like that, we loaded up and took off.  No caravan and we did not wait for Coach. 

    This time, we went north through Arab and across the river just south of Huntsville.  We had gone through Decatur and Cullman on the way down.   It snowed on us all the way home and Billy couldn’t drive faster than 30 mph or so all the way.    That was just an adventure to us.

    Billy eventually dropped each of us off in front of our houses.   I am pretty sure he washed and waxed his car as soon as the sun came out.

    Billy Byrom was a special player and I am sure he became a special man.

Obituary for Mr. John "Billy" William Byrom 

    John William “Billy” Byrom, age 71 of Keystone Heights, passed away in Gainesville on September 7, 2018. Billy was born on April 28, 1947 in Huntsville, Alabama. He was a graduate of Lee High School. He played football at the University of North Alabama. Billy moved to Keystone Heights 38 years ago from Alabama. He founded and operated Alternate Energy Technologies, which is a manufacturing leader in the solar thermal industry, and he eventually relocated the company from Jacksonville to Green Cove Springs. He was a member of the Keystone United Methodist Church (finance committee), Florida Solar Energy Industries Association (FLASEIA), Lions Club, Keystone Volunteer Fire Department, and was on the standards committee for the ICC-SRCCfor the Solar Industry. Billy was an avid NASCAR and Alabama fan (“Roll Tide!”). He also enjoyed hunting, golfing and fishing. He was truly loved by all who knew him. 

    He was preceded in death by his parents, William Henry and Johnnie Marguerite Kelly Byrom; and his sister, Deborah Lynn Byrom. Survivors include, his wife of 37 years, Liz Byrom, of Keystone Heights; daughters, Tara(Leo) Byrom Prieto of Middleburg and Billie Jean Byrom of Orange Park; step-daughter, Monica Tew, and her three children, Philip, Beverly and Dana all of Keystone Heights; and his grandchildren, Preston Prieto of Middleburg and Norah Byrom of Orange Park.

    Memorial services will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, September 14, 2018 at Keystone United Methodist Church. Services will be officiated by Dr. Tom Farmer.

    In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Keystone United Methodist Church in honor of Mr. Billy Byrom. (

        Memphis, TN - I still beat the deadline for this week's Traveller despite the fact that in the last week I personally have travelled through six states in a circuit ride of family affairs and visitations. Included in the activities was baby sitting two sets of grandchildren and attending the wedding of a great-niece. I did manage to get in one round of golf in the process and do some major home repairs for our single-mom daughter. Tonight I am very tired due to a planned eight-hour road trip turning into a 10-hour adventure of sitting almost still in a traffic backup for over two hours.

    I've included Billy Byrom's obit which was unavailable last week and a reprint of a fair story by Terry Preston.

The Madison County Fair
1960’s Vintage
By Terry Preston
LHS '64

(Editor's Note: This week we continue looking back at the Madison County Fair by reprinting a story previously submitted by Terry Preston.)

    “Step right up folks, and see something that you’ve never seen before!  In this very place, inside this very tent, with your very own eyes, you’ll see strange sights!  Sights from the exotic corners of the earth, sights witnessed by royalty the world over!   We’ve brought them right here to you.  Yes sir and yes ma’am, right here in, er, Huntspatch Alabama, your own town, sights normally reserved for ONLY kings and queens!  What does it cost, you ask?  Why twenty-five cents!  That’s all, just one quarter of a dollar!  Don’t miss this show of a lifetime.  Step right up!”

    Where on earth would you expect to find such an extensive over utilization of hyperbole? (That’s fancy college graduate talk, meaning ‘pure bullshit’).  Madison Avenue?  The U.S. Congress?  Saddam Hussein?  No, this generous distribution of fertilizer, along with that deposited by four legged farm animals, could be found every September during the 1960’s at the Madison County Fairgrounds on Church Street, in Huntsville.

    The fair!  What an exciting, interesting place for a poor mill village kid to be.  I can still feel the warm rush and the tingle that accompanied our entrance into the place!   They always had a special afternoon “school day”, when ticket prices were much cheaper, and almost everyone from school was there.  And sometimes daddy would even take us back on Saturday night, when they had the high wire act (we called it the tight rope), so that we could enjoy all of the lights and the “pageantry”.   I guess that word really doesn’t fit when describing that Podunk carnival, but back then it caused my ebony eyes to become as big as saucers!

    My earliest recollections were of things that excited my senses.  The smell of cotton candy, popcorn and sawdust, the color and flavor of candy apples, the thrill of the rides, the sounds of carnival music mixed with the loud talking of the vendors, kids screaming in fun, the tinkling of nickels hitting the plates on the heads of large stuffed animals, and music coming from the carousel!  I loved the Ferris wheel, the Tilt-A-Whirl, the bump cars, and the Scrambler.  I was petrified of the Bullet!   Many of the September days were hot, and some of the September nights seemed really cold.

    And of course, I remember being there with my little grade school girlfriends.  Ah, the thrill of walking around and holding hands with the likes of Anna Cope, Frankie Kennedy, and Linda Schafer!  But I also remember being busted by Sherry Adcock.  She caught me looking at the “Adam & Eve” peep show.  “You see something?” she smirked.  The sad thing was that I really hadn’t!  It was a total rip-off!

    My country cousins had a little different view of the fair.   Growing up in the mill village I knew precious little about farm life.  Heck, I thought that a tomato plant was a factory over in West Huntsville!  And a barn?  That was a neat little building where you rolled in the hay with your favorite female country cousins, wasn’t it?  But they were a lot more knowledgeable about all of that Green Acres stuff, and to them the fair was a stage to proudly showplace their 4-H Club projects, such as their fat heifers and pigs, and their home-wrecker sized cucumbers.   What I didn’t know at the time was that these dumb bumpkins were pocketing cash prizes while their cool and brilliant city cousin wasn’t!

    It seemed that the fair grew up with us.  Each year it was a little larger, a little noisier, a little more crowded, and the rides a little better.  I remember the first time that I rode on the triple-decker Ferris wheel.  My thoughts were “Too high, too fast,” and “Get me the hell off this thing!”  So while some of my good friends (Walt Thomas, C.E. Wynn, Mike Smith, Mike Chisam, Milton Shelton, and others) were riding this and other scary rides (like the Bullet), I began to develop a real fondness and appreciation for the art and culture of the sideshows.  Fortunately, I had company.  David France, Jim McBride, and Gene Siders (remember him?), were also developing an appreciation for the fine arts.

    Fittingly, we were blessed with many mind-broadening experiences that helped to prepare us for the changing times ahead.  We came to understand and appreciate people who were different, such as the bearded lady, the incredible tattooed lady, the world’s smallest woman, Fanny Oakley, the sword swallower (the original deep throat?), the fortune-telling lady, and the Hoochie-Coochie girls.  To this day David France is in love with Cher, totally because of her tattoos.  Gene Siders married a lady with a really neat mustache.  And where do you suppose that Jim McBride got the idea for using the term “Hoochie-Coochie” in his Country Music Song of the Year, “Chattahoochee?”  It was the Madison County fair!  Really!  Ask him!    

    But our most mind-broadening experience was probably the night that we saw the Morphodite (a woman having both male and female genitalia).  Well, the guys TOLD me that she had male genitalia.  I couldn’t take my eyes off her female genitalia long enough to even notice the other!   Of course this educational experience, in addition to making us instant heroes with the guys at Lee High School, also helped to prepare me in later years to sing the hit single “Lola” with understanding.  (This song about a transvestite was recorded by a group that, for some unknown reason was called the Kinks).    

    One thing that never changed over the years was the abundance of games, all designed to take your money.  You could throw baseballs at cats or softballs at heavy “milk” bottles; there was ring toss, coin toss, basketball hoops, and ringing the bell by swinging a sledgehammer.  And the hawkers were tremendous salesmen!  I mean, how could you pass up his challenge to your manhood?  Of course you could knock down three cats, impress your girlfriend and win her a teddy bear.  Couldn’t you?

    Many of our classmates will no doubt submit dozens of their memories of the Fair, and I can’t wait to read them.  I guess the thing that impressed me the most was the manner in which the Fair concentrated so much fun, amusement, and entertainment into one place in the middle of a somewhat laid back community – year after year.  And how that it was THE thing to do for so much of our youth.  But it probably was so great only in our minds, and you just had to be there to appreciate it.  Years later I offered to take my daughters to either the Madison County Fair or to Six Flags.  They chose Six Flags.


From Our Mailbox 


Subject:    Last Week's Football Roster

Eddie Burton 

LHS '66

     Looking at that roster shows only one Quarterback. By today’s standards that’s scary.

Subject:    Barbara's Fair Story
Chip Smoak
LHS '66

    Barbara Wilkerson Donnelly certainly elicited some fond memories.  We always toured the livestock barns, occasionally watching livestock auctions for a few minutes, and the exhibit halls.