Citizen of the Year: Junior Auxiliary honors Clayton’s dedication to young people

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com Jerry Clayton stands with his family onstage after being awarded the Outstanding Citizen on Friday night during the Charity Ball at the BancorpSouth Arena.

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Jerry Clayton stands with his family onstage after being awarded the Outstanding Citizen on Friday night during the Charity Ball at the BancorpSouth Arena.

By M. Scott Morris

Daily Journal

TUPELO – The founder and director of Alpha House for Boys was named Junior Auxiliary’s Outstanding Citizen of the Year at the BancorpSouth Arena on Friday.

Jerry Lee Clayton of Tupelo received a standing ovation, and was met by family members and well-wishers at the stage.

“Well, I must say, that I’m as surprised as any of you,” Clayton said, getting a laugh out of the crowd. “You pulled a good one on me.”

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com Tula Clayton smiles and hugs her husband after he was named the Outstanding Citizen on Friday night.

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Tula Clayton smiles and hugs her husband after he was named the Outstanding Citizen on Friday night.

He said he believed that every boy at Alpha House was special, and he’s proud they grew up to be the kind of men who wouldn’t treat their children the way they were treated.

“One of the things I learned a long time ago: When you start a project, whether it be a basketball team, the beginning of school, opening a boy’s home or whatever,” he said, “my advice would be to get the good Lord involved as quickly as possible because nothing will be successful without him.”

JA president Brandi Long said Clayton wasn’t content to simply watch as countless children shuffled through the system without hope for a suitable home.

“He decided to take action,” she said. “I suspect he must have thought, if not I, who? And if not now, when?”

From 1972 to 2012, Alpha House on Franklin Street was home for more than 1,000 young men.

One of those residents, Terry Morris, was abandoned on the outskirts of Tupelo at the age of 14 in the early 1980s. Today, he is a NASA engineer and chairman of the FEMA Emergency Food and Shelter Board.

“I, a child who had no voice, no power and no home, was given a voice and a home and an opportunity,” Morris said, “and I thank Jerry Clayton for reaching out to the least of us.”

Clayton grew up in the Mt. Vernon community and is an alumnus of Belden High School. After college, he came to Tupelo to coach and teach at Milam Junior High School, then moved to Tupelo High School.

He led the Golden Wave basketball team to a state championship in 1968, a feat that hasn’t been matched since.

Bobby Pepper | Buy at photos.djournal.com Jerry Clayton, left, talks to Terry Morris after Clayton was awarded the Outstanding Citizen on Friday night . Morris was one of the boys that lived at the Alpha House Home for Boys, of which Clayton was the long-time director.

Bobby Pepper | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Jerry Clayton, left, talks to Terry Morris after Clayton was awarded the Outstanding Citizen on Friday night . Morris was one of the boys that lived at the Alpha House Home for Boys, of which Clayton was the long-time director.

He went on to become chancery clerk for Lee County for 20 years, and also was a Lee County Youth Court referee.

“I would hold up Mr. Clayton as a pillar of our community,” said David E. Anthony, senior counselor for Lee County Youth Court and one of Clayton’s former basketball players.

Clayton and his wife, Tula Ann Clayton, are members of Calvary Baptist Church. They have two children, Clay and Matt, and six grandchildren.

He was past president of the Mississippi Chancery Clerks Association and the Lee County Heart Association, and he’s a past member of North Mississippi Medical Center’s board of directors.

In addition, he was a charter member of the Elvis Presley Memorial Foundation, and he served on the Tupelo Coliseum Commission.

He also served on the Governors Commission for Group Homes for Children. Due to changes in state regulations, Alpha House closed in 2012.

Family friend Steve Hester said he often saw Clayton put the needs of Alpha House boys before his own.

“He has a lifetime of dedication influencing hundreds of lives. Now, many of these young men are living useful lives with families of their own. What more can a man do?” Hester said. “Jerry’s reward has been in his own heart, seeing lives change and saving many young men from terrible situations.”

scott.morris@journalinc.com

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DISTINGUISHED COMPANY

Here’s a list of past recipients of the Junior Auxiliary Outstanding Citizen Award:

• 1964 – Mrs. Elizabeth Ballard

• 1965 – Mr. George McLean

• 1966 – Mrs. Elizabeth Holcomb and Miss Manie Berry

• 1967 – Mr. C.C. Eason

• 1968 – Mr. Medford Leake

• 1969 – Mr. John A. Rasberry

• 1970 – Dr. L.L. McDougal

• 1971 – Mr. Jack Reed Sr.

• 1972 – Mr. George F. Maynard Sr.

• 1973 – Dr. P.K. Thomas Jr.

• 1974 – Mr. Glenn C. Sturdivant

• 1975 – Mr. James Ballard

• 1976 – Mr. Paul Eason

• 1977 – Mr. and Mrs. Chauncey R. Godwin

• 1978 – Mr. Felix Black

• 1979 – Mr. Guy Mitchell Jr.

• 1980 – Mrs. Katy Bryson

• 1981 – Mrs. Alliene Gibens

• 1982 – Mr. Charles Mullinnix

• 1983 – Mr. J.C. Whitehead

• 1984 – The Rev. George Catin

• 1985 – Mrs. Keirsey McLean

• 1986 – Mr. and Mrs. Aaron Morgan

• 1987 – Mrs. Edith Thomas

• 1988 – Mr. James F. Ingram

• 1989 – Mr. Henry C. Brevard Jr.

• 1990 – Mrs. Tommie Bourland

• 1991 – The Rev. and Mrs. G.H. “Bo” Holloman

• 1992 – Mr. and Mrs. L.D. Hancock

• 1993 – Mr. and Mrs. Bill L. Rieves

• 1994 – Dr. Antone W. Tannehill Jr.

• 1995 – Mr. Palmer Foster

• 1996 – Mr. Guy Mitchell III

• 1997 – Mrs. Eloise Scott

• 1998 – Mr. and Mrs. Bob Monroe

• 1999 – Mrs. Sarah Doxey-Tate

• 2000 – Mr. Lewis Whitfield

• 2001 – Mr. George Bogardus

• 2002 – Mr. James Michael “Mickey” Linder

• 2003 – Dr. Eugene Murphey and Mrs. Margaret Anne Murphey

• 2004 – Mrs. Kay Bain

• 2005 – Mrs. Vera Dukes

• 2006 – Mr. Aubrey Patterson

• 2007 – Mr. Charles Johnston and Mrs. Joyce Johnston

• 2008 – Dr. Ed Hill

• 2009 – Mrs. Camille Purnell Caples

• 2010 – Mr. Alan M. Bank

• 2011 – Mr. L.E. “Bo” Gibens

• 2012 – Mrs. Grace Clark

• 2013 – Mrs. Charlotte Westbrook

• 2014 – Mr. Jerry Lee Clayton