Article by Brian Bethel of the Abilene Reporter-News
When newspaper columnist and woman-about-town Roy Helen Ackers was a young girl of about seven or eight, she told her father that she couldn't go to town on Saturday because she didn't have the proper shoes to wear.
But Ackers' father suspected that Roy Helen was embarrassed to be seen in a horse and buggy, since many of her friends' families owned Ford Model Ts.
A teachable moment, perhaps, author Johnnie Lou Avery Boyd told a crowd gathered at the Abilene Public Library Monday.
And so a deal was struck, said Boyd, guest speaker at Monday's installment of the Texas Author Series and author of MizHat: The Life Journey of Roy Helen Herndon Mingus Ackers.
Ackers, who died Feb. 11, at age 95, had a remarkable life, filled with colorful experiences, colorful clothes and colorful hats.
But it was the stories she told about herself and that others told about her that give her some of her brightest hues, Boyd said.
Concerning her childhood footwear, her father assured her that "your shoes are not an indication of your character."
But he told her that if she would ride in the wagon twice around the town square, waving to her friends, she would get a new pair of shoes - a great sacrifice for her poor family.
"She had never worried about riding that buggy around the square, she really didn't think her shoes were pretty and shiny," Boyd said. "And so she rode around that square and waved at every one of her friends, threw them kisses, did little things, while her father was continuing his lesson about being proud of who you are and being oneself."
When it came time to buy her shoes, only boys' shoes were on sale at the department store they visited. So Roy Helen left with a pair of brown and white boys' spectator shoes.
"I have never worn a pair of shoes that I loved as much as those shoes, and I still have them," she told Boyd.
Her joy for life was evident, whether it was stepping out with any number of gentlemen to hosting epic-length birthday parties.
But while Ackers' wild and public side is well known, it was important for Boyd to show her subject's "total personality."
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"She was more than a flamboyant, wild dresser," she said. "She was also a deeply religious person - she had a strong faith. But she also was a very good friend. In fact, everybody that knew her thought she was their best friend."
Humor was Ackers' stock in trade, and she gave it freely.
Teaching her Sunday School class about the 10 commandments, she mentioned that she'd only broken one.
She left them guessing, even to this day.
Ackers was involved with the writing of "MizHat" just about every step of the way, though the subject initially insisted that no one would actually read a book about her, Boyd said.
But once the project took off, she committed.
"She chose the picture on the cover, she chose all the pictures inside, she chose the name of the book. She did everything but write it, but she may as well have done that," Boyd said. Ackers would often expound at length on stories shared with additional information on laser precision when it came to dates.
And then came the final chapter.
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Throughout her life, Ackers displayed a fearlessness toward death.
Boyd recounted a story of a young Roy Helen, standing on tiptoe, looking in her aunt's coffin, marveling at her beautiful dress and hair.
It was OK, her family told her, to cry a bit at funerals, but it was also a happy time, their faith promising she would see her aunt again among mansions and streets of gold - and that she'd just gone ahead to prepare a place.
"From that moment on, she loved the thought of dying," Boyd said. "She never feared death."
The book took eight months to write, five weeks to lay out and edit. Ackers and Boyd went over teh volume on Feb. 6.
On Feb. 8, Ackers went into the hospital. The book went to print Feb. 13, two days after her death, once a final summation of her life and legacy was added.
Boyd recalled she went to the hospital to visit Ackers and discuss the book. The fire was not yet out.
"The first thing she asked was is our book at the printer's yet," she recalled. "Maybe she lived until the book was finished and she had proofed the last thing."