Audrey Dean Leighton passed away in mid-2005, East
Texas lost one of its most entertaining and colorful characters.
With his chest-length beard, red shorts, boots, gaudy hats and shirts--and
his trademark twirler’s baton--Leighton roamed all over East
Texas, appearing in parades, entertaining old people in nursing
homes, and showing up unexpectedly at community events.
As a self-proclaimed “Global Twirler,” Leighton performed on the
sidewalks of New Orleans, New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Phoenix,
Seattle and cities in France, Italy, Spain and Sweden.
People laughed and snickered at his antics, but he had a deeper
personality and a mind as sharp as a college professor.
He was the valedictorian of his high school class, marched as drum
major of his high school band, played a saxophone, and was a child
of privilege--a descendant of one of Hemphill’s
oldest and richest families.
Most people didn’t even know his name; he was usually called “The
About a year before his untimely death to bone cancer, he and I
sat down at a Hemphill
gift shop and talked about his life. I found Leighton to be one
of the smartest men I had met in years.
Leighton said his parents divorced when he was an infant and he
rarely saw his father. When his mother passed away, his only ties
were to an aunt and a handful of distant cousins.
So, supported by a family trust fund, he traveled to his heart’s
content and did what he pleased--always with a twirler’s baton spinning
in the air.
no permanent address, but the closest was a single upstairs room
in the old Pratt house at Hemphill.
It was his mother’s bedroom. He lived there until the Pratt heirs
sold the house to the First Baptist Church.
Without a home, Audrey usually stayed at motels in Hemphill
Augustine. He also expanded his wanderings, leaving his possessions
in a trunk at a friend’s home in Hemphill.
He hitched rides with friends, traveling all over the country.
Leighton claimed he could communicate with the deceased and often
walked over to Hemphill’s
cemetery to visit with what he called “my old friends and relatives.”
He added: “Those Pratts are as tight-lipped in death as they were
Leighton was tight-lipped, too. He refused to give interviews to
journalists. However, a few days after his death, Emily Taravella
of the Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel produced a warm, insightful
feature story about “The Twirler.”
Leighton would have been proud that his story appeared on the front
pages of the Sentinel and the Lufkin Daily News.
When Leighton died, his trust fund had just enough money left to
cover his cremation.
His last wishes were that his ashes be sprinkled all over the world,
in keeping with his own outlook on life--“Travel around and make
people happy.” His friends complied with his wishes.
Bob Bowman's East Texas
August 21, 2009 Column
A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers
Copyright Bob Bowman
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