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A Flame Extinguished: Alice Hawthorne Remembered

Hawthorne By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 3, 1996; Page C01

ALBANY, Ga. -- Spanish moss cascades from the towering, broad-leafed trees. The graceful branches of weeping willows brush the red clay earth and thick palm trees squat along the roadside. The Flint River cuts through this southwest Georgia town and the sweet scent of the land rises as the dew disappears.

Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs race along West Oglethorpe Boulevard with reckless, big-city urgency. There are strip malls filled with fast-food joints, hair salons seemingly at every turn and broken-down shacks that stubbornly refuse to fall.

Juniper Drive lies between a tiny regional airport and an industrial park. It is four blocks long. The houses are sturdy and brick. The people living here are not just scraping by, they're moving steadily upward.

This was Alice Hawthorne's street. And she was happy.

She has become known around the world as the woman who was killed in the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta last week. Hawthorne died, reportedly from wounds caused by flying metal fragments. Her 14-year-old daughter, Fallon Stubbs, was injured. Alice's funeral was held here yesterday.

In the days following the tragedy, the world received a sketchy outline of Hawthorne's life. She had grown up in Atlanta and then moved to Albany to attend college. She did a stint in the Air Force, serving in Vietnam. She worked for TCI of Georgia and for Procter & Gamble. She was a board member of the Albany Chamber of Commerce. She owned an ice cream shop that was named after her daughter. She was nice. She was kind. She was the black-and-white photo with the lovely smile.

At the park, she had been the unlucky one. Everything -- her timing, her location -- conspired against her. Now, as the drama of the investigation unfolds, she has slipped into the chorus with the angelic host.

But in life, the 44-year-old Hawthorne was always center stage. "Wherever the action was," says friend Tommy Chatmon, "that's where she was." She had a taste for glamour, style and flash. Shopping was her hobby.

"I know she loved to shop and she loved quality," says Bonnie Gardner, of Chatmon Beauty Supply. The store sits just a couple doors down from Hawthorne's ice cream shop.

"I don't think I ever went to the mall and didn't see her," says Winfred Dukes. Hawthorne was campaign manager of Dukes's bid for the state House of Representatives for District 161.

Hawthorne was high-maintenance woman. She used to keep a standing appointment at her hair salon. Her nails were always manicured. Being impeccably dressed was second nature.

It only seemed natural then that Hawthorne would be the one to entice Ebony's Fashion Fair back to Albany. The traveling fashion show and stage production had come to this town before, thanks to a local sorority. But after they dropped their sponsorship of the extravagant performance, Hawthorne stepped in.

She roused community support, going down to the strip mall and handing out tickets for merchants to sell. The community was willing, but Hawthorne had to be the leader.

The beneficiary of the show was the United Negro College Fund. And Hawthorne's beloved alma mater, historically black Albany State University, would share in the proceeds.

That was one idea, one goal accomplished. She also introduced the Miss Black Albany pageant to the area. She would accompany her contestants on the road as they competed at the state level.

Such a flurry of activity would go on backstage, fussing with hair and meticulously retouching makeup. Were the clothes just right? Were the girls ready to go? Hawthorne was in her element. The pageant was about beauty and poise and personality. And it was also about money that could be used for college.

"She did it," says Chatmon, "because she loved Albany."

Hawthorne's attention darted among fashion, entertainment and entrepreneurship. She dreamed of being her own boss. So despite the hesitation of her second husband, John Hawthorne (her first husband, John Stubbs, lives in nearby Cordele), and the fact that she knew nothing about the restaurant business, she opened Fallon's Hot Dog & Ice Cream Parlour.

And like a lot of folks who start a small business, she was stunned by the long, grueling hours. The job required her to be hands-on, not just dealing with the customers, which was her strength and her love, but dealing with the food, the cleanup, the grind.

"Alice got to the point where she got tired of it. She couldn't be Alice," Chatmon says. "She wanted to be impeccably dressed and have her hair done right and her nails manicured."

She took on a partner to deal with the daily running of the business.

"Then you'd see her in her Vette. This last one was black," Chatmon says. (A black-on-black Corvette convertible.) "She always had a passion for Vettes and she had at least three. She'd be all dressed up. Nails done. Hair right. She was back in her element."

She tried to develop a catch-all complex -- bowling alley, hair salon, music club -- where young black adults could gather. She called it the Outer Limit and it was the beginning of her dream of developing the strip mall along West Oglethorpe.

"It was, I believe, the only club in the city for black teenagers to go to," says Prince Brown, director of alumni affairs for Albany State University and a former classmate of Hawthorne's.

Hawthorne went beyond simply hiring disc jockeys to spin records. She brought rapper Luther Campbell to the club. But last year, she had to close it down, says Albany resident Terry Thomas. The place would be packed; the parking lot would be full. But things got out of hand. There were fights and it was more than Hawthorne could handle.

No matter where her beloved Albany State University football team went, Hawthorne followed. The team has won the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship three years in a row.

Sometimes Hawthorne would close down the ice cream store on Friday so she could watch the team play an away game. And she sponsored local radio broadcasts of the games by buying advertising time for her business.

On a promising November day last year, she sat in the lobby of the Columbus Hilton with Prince Brown. She was in town for the Fountain City Classic, a game between longtime rivals ASU and Fort Valley State University.

Over the last few years, she and Brown had become friends, long after they had begun college together. She talked about her life and why she'd opened Fallon's and how proud she was of it.

"Things were going great, and she felt a sense of accomplishment," Brown says. "As I think back, she really seemed to have felt like she was making an impact on the community. As a businessperson, as a minority businessperson and as a female businessperson, she was out there."

It's easy to understand why Hawthorne felt such passion about ASU. She'd started there back in 1970 and left to enter the military. She returned more than two decades later, and in 1994 received her bachelor of science degree in marketing.

Albany State represented a challenge that had been overcome. It was a concrete symbol of her determination and ultimate success. She loved the school because it had been good to her.

A Quiet Neighbor
There are flashes of Hawthorne everywhere here. There are hints of her personality in the tiniest details.

The front door to her house on Juniper Drive cracks open and there stands her oldest daughter, 22-year-old Adoria Minor. She is serious and quiet and seems distracted by thoughts distant and complex. She cannot speak about her mother.

Hawthorne relied on the coolheaded Adoria.

"There was a sisterly thing between Adoria and Alice," Chatmon observed. "Adoria worked in the restaurant and made it possible for Alice to go out and do all the things she had to do."

Hawthorne's brown brick ranch house is trimmed in pale blue. A narrow path leads up a slight incline and to the front door. Next to it hangs a white wood cutout of a duck that reads: "Welcome. The Hawthornes."

The next time the door swings open, there stands Fallon Stubbs. White bandages encircle her right arm. On her left hand is a bulbous bundle of gauze. Her freshly styled hair is a mass of springy corkscrew curls. She is smiling and extending her uninjured right hand.

Fallon is a lot like her mother.

"She was always real open, she didn't seem to be very private," Gardner says. "With Fallon being the baby, [Hawthorne] spent a lot of time with her."

Juniper Drive is in a quiet neighborhood, stable. Miss Charlie Bell McCode has lived here for 20 years, Dorothy McKendrick for 24.

Hawthorne, they say, was a good neighbor. She'd drive in the back way when she came home from work. And when she'd walk around front to pull the mail from the box, she'd give her neighbors a wave or a smile. She didn't spend a lot of time chatting with most of them or sitting on the stoop. She was too busy for that.

"I remember one time her little girl was going to have a birthday party at night," McCode says. Hawthorne "let the people in the neighborhood know and asked would we mind."

Her City
Hawthorne could also be tough. She'd had one unsuccessful marriage. She'd been a single mother. And she was a black businesswoman in a southwest Georgia town.

Albany can be a racist and divisive place, says one resident. It is about 52 percent black and is filled with white-collar professionals, clock punchers for the Miller Brewing Co. and Procter & Gamble, and farmers outside the city.

Albany, with 80,000 residents, is a mid-size city with a modern civic center and four public high schools. But there also are neighborhoods of deteriorating shacks where the future looks grim. There are racial divides, but there also are barriers within communities.

As one local political consultant observes, there is a battle for power here.

"Politics down here is like a contact sport," says Winfred Dukes. "If you jump off into that, you're preparing yourself to be bludgeoned."

Hawthorne dived into the scrum. Her first real taste for politics was in her consulting work on an economic-disparity study that had, in part, been instigated by Dukes, a local contractor.

Their friendship developed over the course of that project, and early this year, when he made the formal decision to run for the state House of Representatives, she became his campaign manager.

Dukes is 37 years old and has a quick, boyish laugh. He is wearing black and tan snakeskin shoes. And he is the Democratic candidate for the recently vacated House seat.

Hawthorne wasn't appointed campaign manager, but in those early days, when Dukes was searching for like-minded people, he realized that he and Hawthorne were on the same wavelength. They both believed in full and equal access to higher education, government incentives for minority business owners and community responsibility. "She just evolved as campaign manager."

It wasn't an easy task.

"You're getting paid in thank-yous," Dukes says. "It's a tireless job that requires someone with a lot of energy.

"I'll miss her coming in the office, and first thing, she'd be giving orders, even to me. Especially to me," Dukes says.

She could brush off insults and work her way around obstacles. She was outspoken and honest. And if you didn't like her, she didn't care, Dukes says.

She tirelessly handed out Dukes's little red, white and blue cards stating his political goals and philosophy. Hawthorne took his message to the people. When campaigning, though, she left the black Corvette at home.

"You can't be riding around in a convertible when everyone else is on wagons and tractors," Dukes says with a laugh. "We took my truck."

One of Hawthorne's best friends of 15 years described her as loyal and courageous. Others have spoken of her charm and open smile. She knew how to indulge herself and enjoy her accomplishments.

"Alice didn't work on her birthday," Dukes remembers. "She'd say, `This is my birthday week.' " (She celebrated her last birthday July 17.)

In her nine-year marriage to John Hawthorne, the second for each, it seemed that she'd found a good mate.

"They both got it right the second time around," Chatmon says. "I always admired John because he seemed so secure with giving Alice the space she needed to maneuver, but he has always been there to support her when she needed it."

She had gotten her hair done the day before she made the three-hour drive to Atlanta. She didn't have any tickets to Olympic events, but that didn't matter. Hawthorne loved sports, music, people. She loved being in the thick of it all.

Her friends weren't surprised that she was right up front at the concert at Centennial Olympic Park. The only other place they could have imagined her would have been onstage.

Celebrating a Life
There are no more seats left in the sanctuary at Mount Zion Baptist Church. The men of the church have to carry in folding chairs. The pews are filled with friends and acquaintances, black and white, who have come to mourn Hawthorne.

Roses, carnations, orchids and mums surround her cherrywood-colored casket. Too many flowers. Some have been placed along the wall and in the windowsills.

This spacious house of God isn't Hawthorne's home church. She belonged to West Town United Methodist. The congregation there, on a good Sunday, numbers about 60. There are probably 800 people packed into Mount Zion.

But Hawthorne's minister has come here to pray for her family and friends and to celebrate her life. "She was a pacesetter," the Rev. Willie Lucas said soon after her death. "She took the ministry beyond the walls of the church."

The family processional begins. First is her husband, John, eyes shielded by dark glasses. Her daughters follow. Adoria wears black; Fallon is dressed in white. There are siblings from Douglasville and Atlanta. Then come cousins and close friends.

Famous faces are here, too. The mayor of Albany, Tommy Coleman, admits to ineloquence in his sadness. A representative from the White House reads condolences from the president and first lady. Gov. Zell Miller and his wife sit somberly, as does a representative from Sen. Sam Nunn's office. Andrew Young, co-chairman of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, bows his head in silence as he views Hawthorne's body before sitting down. Then he pulls a small red Bible -- held closed with a rubber band -- from his suit pocket and begins to read.

To the beat of drums and jangle of a tambourine, the choir promises that "there'll be better days ahead." The tears flow in body-wracking waves, in delicate sniffles and in stunned silence.

Hawthorne's body was taken to Douglasville yesterday evening for a memorial. Another service is scheduled today in Atlanta at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church. Westview Cemetery will be her last home.

It lies about eight miles outside of the Olympic Ring.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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