The tradition of service to the community is generations old in Clara Hayley’s family.
Both her great-grandmother and grandmother were longtime executive directors of the Carrie Steele-Pitts Home, a century-old children’s haven on Atlanta’s Southside. Hayley herself enthusiastically devoted countless hours as a volunteer caring for the boys and girls residing there.
Like several of her forebears, she also was an educator, first a teacher at three Atlanta elementary schools. Later in her 30-year career, she trained other teachers. As director of Atlanta Public Schools’ Reading Center, the system’s first long-term professional development program, she helped hundreds of them master better methods of reading and math instruction.
“Clara was small in stature but was huge when it came to improving other teachers’ skills,” said a fellow educator, Thelma Glover of Atlanta. “Her leadership style was creative, even jolly, but the teachers she instructed knew she meant business.”
For more than 50 years she was an energetic member of the Chautauqua Circle, a select group of influential African-American women.
A fellow member, Wynelle Scott of Atlanta, said Hayley held nearly every office in the organization, including president. As the group’s longtime program chair, Hayley often invited speakers on issues vital to the community — poverty, education, child welfare and civil rights. “Clara had a strong sense of giving back — as did all her family,” Scott said.
Another circle member, former Mayor Shirley Franklin, said Hayley was one of the first Atlantans she met when she moved here 41 years ago. She said she enjoyed Hayley’s company hundreds of times since then.
“Clara was very insightful — one of the best judges of character I’ve ever known,” Franklin said. “She had strong analytical skills and could quickly separate the genuine from the pretentious. She befriended all kinds of people; what mattered to her was their authenticity.”
Clara Yates Hayley, 87, of Atlanta died of lung cancer July 22 at Wesley Woods’ Budd Terrace. Her funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Monday at First Congregational Church in downtown Atlanta. Murray Brothers Cascade Chapel is in charge of arrangements.
Another trait passed down through Hayley’s family was a knack for cooking. As a child, she learned her way around the kitchen from a blind great-grandmother who taught her the importance of taste and feel in cooking.
Hayley’s daughter, Clara Axam of Atlanta, former president and CEO of the Corporation for Olympic Development in Atlanta, said her mother baked something every day, either bread, rolls or desserts, and never served canned or frozen vegetables, only fresh ones from her garden or a produce market.
Axam said her mother also could re-create at home any sumptuous dish she had sampled at a fine restaurant.
A grandson, Cinque Axam of Decatur, said Hayley taught him to understand cooking chemistry, adding ingredients in a specific order and tasting every step of the way, not waiting until the dish was finished.
“Grandma Clara passed on a secret family recipe to me for waffles that are crisp and light and suggest a hint of vanilla. They melt in your mouth, and my friends rave about them,” he said.
Her husband of 44 years, James Hayley Sr., died in 1992.
Survivors also include a son, James “Pete” Hayley Jr. of Atlanta; seven other grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.