Mr. Clarence Laydon Denning, age 87, known to family and friends as “Laydon”, of Mt. Olive, NC, passed away on Thursday, April 20, 2023 at Duke University Hospital.
Laydon was born on February 13, 1936 in Grantham Township, Wayne County, North Carolina. He was the first child and the oldest son born to Clarence William and Velaria Mae (Westbrook) Denning.
There were twelve children born in his family, but only ten lived to adulthood. There was definitely “sleeping at the foot” of the bed back then! As a young lad, Laydon went to live with his beloved Aunt Bet and Pa Joe Westbrook (Aunt Bet and Pa Joe had raised his Mama). Those sweet folks did not have any children of their own and welcomed Laydon with open arms. They lived fairly close, within a mile, to his Mama and Daddy’s house so he had the advantage of four parents and two homes! And being the only child in their household afforded him many advantages. Yes, his other siblings often teased him of being spoiled, but Laydon still had to work hard in the cotton, corn and tobacco fields! That was his life back in the 1940s and 1950s as it was for so many others in rural North Carolina.
Laydon attended Grantham School but like many children in that era, was needed to work on the farm and did not have the opportunity of a full education. And to be honest, school was not Laydon’s favorite place to go. He would rather be working in the tobacco, corn or cotton fields or enjoying some hunting and fishing. He loved all his siblings dearly, but in later years was especially close to his siblings, Bernise and Dennis, who were always there to offer their help and support when he needed it. There was always a big, rowdy, household full of “Dennings” with a lot of love and camaraderie, family reunions celebrating birthdays and good times as evidenced by many family get-together photos! Often times and sadly, those gatherings would occur when a family member passed away. When our brother Duke passed away in March, 2022, I was concerned for Laydon to make that trip to Virginia. He quickly let me know that he hadn’t ever missed a family member’s funeral yet and he wasn’t going to miss Duke’s!
Like his brothers, Monk, Duke and Dennis, Laydon was a commercial and residential painter by trade, and worked for Glidewell Brothers in Richmond, VA. during the 1960s for a short time.
In 1966 Laydon was admitted to what was then called Medical College of Virginia Hospital for emergency treatment of a brain tumor. He had major neurosurgery to remove the tumor from his brain. Thankfully, the tumor was not malignant! During the surgery they had to remove a portion of his skull and placed a metal plate in his head. It was a very serious surgery, but Laydon survived with good doctors and lots of love and family support. Fortunately, he did not suffer any serious complications from this major surgery. Laydon spoke very highly of MCV Hospital and their saving his life back then. Throughout his lifetime, he told many folks his miraculous medical story and recommended MCV Hospital (known now as Virginia Commonwealth University) to them!
The big city didn’t really suit Laydon’s country personality so he moved back to Wayne County, NC and continued to paint, though mostly residential painting for neighbors and friends until his retirement in his mid-seventies. That’s right, not that long ago! He worried all of us by being on top of a roof painting at that age! However, Laydon had a stubborn streak, and he just continued to work painting and doing odd jobs for neighbors and friends! Like his siblings, he possessed a very strong work ethic.
In his early years, Laydon was quite a handsome man with dark brown hair and blue eyes. However, as we all know, time has a way of eroding good looks and replacing them with kindness and a good heart. Please don’t misunderstand, he had his failings too. But as a rule, Laydon had a welcome smile and a kind greeting for most folks. Many times, I would be relaying a story about a family member, and he would just laugh out loud! He possessed a jovial disposition and had a hearty laugh. Often when I called him in the early mornings, he would tell me he was “sitting in the sunshine” and just chuckle. We kept in close contact by phone, and if I could help them with any worries, I would.
Since losing so much family support, Laydon’s past few years have been very difficult for him to handle; his spirit was sagging. Family and neighbors were unable to offer their support, and he often would walk six miles to Newton Grove to go to the grocery store. He was not a patient man, and didn’t like being told they couldn’t help him right now. So, walk he would! He told me sometimes a neighbor, often John Dunn, would see him walking and give him a ride to Food Lion in Newton Grove. After doing his grocery shopping, the cashier would give him a ride back home. I never knew her name but she definitely was “paying it forward”! Thank you so much for being a good Samaritan (you know who you are) to my brother!
Laydon had two marriages early on in life. His first marriage was to Rosie Mae Price and they had three children together. They were Calvin Douglas, Diane Marie and Connie Frances Denning. (Sadly, their marriage did not survive the loss of their infant daughter, Connie Frances, and ended in divorce.)
On September 3, 1968, he married Frances Louise Kelley and they lived in Richmond, VA prior to moving to the Grantham Community. They were married thirteen years. His stepdaughter, Shelby Jeanne (Blackmon) Colman, told me Laydon was a good father. She has many fond memories of him and her mother, and that he was the only father she ever really knew. It warmed my heart to hear her stories of his playing Santa and being a good Dad to her!
Laydon then married Lalon Rose (Warren) Rutter in 1981 and their marriage has stood the test of time! They recently celebrated 42 years together and have taken good care of each other in those hard, near end-of-life stages we all will have to go through “someday”. Sadly, most of his family and hers were either passed away or unable to lend support to them in their daily needs. Laydon had gone through several difficult years with medical and health issues, yet he was thankful for his church’s support and his daughter, Diane, and stepdaughter, Wanda. A special thank you to Pastor Horace Johnson and other thoughtful church members who also aided Laydon these past few months handling their errands and routine chores.
Laydon always had a strong faith and belief in God. He would always tell anyone who would listen that “The King has got me!” He and his wife, Lalon, were members at Randall’s Chapel PFWB Church in Johnson County, NC for 32 years and attended regularly until he lost his driving privilege and his independence in 2022 at 86 years of age. That adjustment was very difficult for them with no way to take care of their errands, bills, doctor visits and household needs, totally dependent on others for help. His health had also begun to fail, and the recent loss of his five siblings (with whom he was very close), had taken a huge toll on Laydon. He missed all of them so much and told me so; we commiserated together!
Laydon was a loving son, grandson, brother, father, grandpa, friend and neighbor. He had a loving and kind heart! Left to cherish his memories are: his wife, Lalon Denning, his son, Calvin Douglas Denning (Lisa); and daughter, Diane Marie Denning Baker-Stancil (Dean), three step children: Shelby Jeanne Coleman, Bobby Rutter and Wanda (Rutter) Hayes, numerous grandchildren and step grandchildren, and his sister, Betty Lou (Denning) Booska-Salmons (Ron) of Mexico, MO. Also left to cherish his memories are a host of nieces, nephews and cousins.
Many of Laydon’s immediate family are deceased. Laydon was preceded in death by his infant daughter, Connie Frances Denning, his grandson, Jeremy Baker, his parents, Mae and Clarence Denning, his beloved Aunt Bet and Pa Joe Westbrook; his sisters: Rochelle Denning, Viola Denning Gilbert, Janice Lee Denning and Bernise Denning Swiger, and brothers: Dennis E. Denning, Jessie (Monk) Denning, Ellis (Ed) R. Denning, Charles (Duke) W. Denning and his brother-in-law, Robert (Bobby) L. Swiger.
Flowers are welcome; however, the family suggests that memorial contributions be made to Randall’s Chapel PFWB Church located at 278 Randall Chapel Road, Newton Grove, NC 28366.
A visitation will be held Saturday, April 29th, from 2:00 pm until time of services at 3:00 pm at West & Dunn Funeral Funeral Home in Newton Grove, NC. Pastor Horace Johnston will officiate. Burial will follow at Hopewell United Methodist Church located at 4641 Church Road, Newton Grove, NC 28366.
Online condolences may be made at: www.westanddunn.com
West & Dunn Funeral Home, Newton Grove, North Carolina is honored to serve the Denning Family.
Memories of you will always be in our hearts and minds.
Written with love by his sister, Betty Lou (Denning) Booska-Salmons April 26, 2023
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