A legend, an 'eccentric', even a crazy man are all different ways people describe Audrey Dean Leighton. He's better known by longtime east Texans as 'The Twirler Man'. He would walk the countryside in short shorts twirling a baton and frequently showed up in downtown parades.
But the parades are over. Leighton died Sunday, June 19th. Close friends are mourning his death, but they're also celebrating his often misunderstood life. Once you've seen The Twirler Man you never forget him. Talking with Leighton made even a deeper impression. In an independent film by Alonestar Film Leighton said, "I really don't know what the definition of sanity is in the 21st century. I don't know."
Close friends know Audrey Dean had eccentric ways, but they recognized his kindness and forgiveness. Kathy DeKerlagand said, "When people shunned him he held his head up high, but you could still tell it hurt him. He always said, 'Rise above it, let it go,' ".
Audrey Dean was born in San Sugustine a privileged child. He was a handsome teen. Smart too. The high school valedictorian lived in Hemphill's historic Pratt House with three wealthy aunts. That is when he wasn't on the road doing those famous high kicks. Friends keep Audrey's letters written from around the world. A trust fund financed his carefree lifestyle.
Edna Campbell offered space for Audrey dean to keep his belongings. "These are the famous batons. They've been all over the world and they look brand new. And these are his boots. They've been resoled many times. He walked a lot."
But time caught up with Audrey Dean. The aunts died. He lost the house. Bone cancer struck. At 55 he died a penniless man, but richer for the friends he had. At the very end, he was never afraid to let go. Leighton said, "People are afraid of going to the other side. I'm able to drop things. I'm able to let go, let things go and move on. I'm just that way by nature. Detach myself like that."