LOXLEY, Alabama — Loxley Mayor Billy Middleton got an unexpected surprise Thursday night, May 9 at the Loxley Civic Center.
He was expecting to attend the Optimist Club District 29, Zone 6’s End Distracted Driving in Baldwin County Program, a call to action spearheaded by the Optimist Club to end texting and other distractions that is responsible for the deaths of thousands of America’s youth each year.
What he wasn’t expecting was that he would be the first inductee into the Optimist Club’s Legacy Society, presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award for which a scholarship will be presented in his name each year to a Baldwin County student.
“The Loxley Optimist Club paved the way for all the other Optimist Clubs in Baldwin County,” said Jeff Keener, president of the Perdido Bay Club and lieutenant governor for the Alabama Mississippi District 29, Zone 6. “We have learned so much from Billy through the years about what it means to give back to the community.”
Middleton helped found the Loxley Optimist Club in 1980, serving the club as Oratorical chair, secretary/treasurer and president.
He has also served the club as lt. governor, District A&A chair and numerous other positions, including serving as governor for the Alabama Mississippi District 29, the same year he became mayor of Loxley in 1988. Middleton and his wife Lilly attend the Loxley Church of God. They have three sons and three grandsons.
Middleton was presented the award on Thursday, May 9 by current Loxley Optimist Club President Cody Hitchcock.
“This is truly an honor and it really was a surprise,” said Middleton, also acknowledging Lloyd Keuler, the only other surviving founding member of the Loxley club. “You got me, this time.”
The May 9 program centered around the Optimist Club’s End Distracted Driving in Baldwin County program.
Distracted driving is now the leading cause of accidents and fatalities across all age groups, except the older drivers, according to the Federal Department of Transportation and Highway Safety. Distracted driving now accounts for 55 percent of all accidents and fatalities.
“The solution to this is to put our cell phones, tablets and other electronic devices away until we complete our trip,” Keener said. “Distracted driving is a choice and far more Americans that we care to admit take a chance each day by driving distracted.”
A student-made video on the dangers of distracted driving was presented by Marion Lee of Foley High School. The program was spearheaded by the Junior Optimist International clubs at Foley and Elberta high schools.
Students were asked to sign Hunter’s Pledge to end distracted driving, named in memory of Hunter Watson, who was killed while driving distracted. The pledge is a project of the Hunter Watson Memorial Fund. For more information visit hunterwatson.org.
Everyone in attendance at the May 9 program was also asked to sign the pledge.
“It would be easy to say that it is our younger drivers that are causing distracted driving accidents,” Keener said. “The reality is far from this. Moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas all must take responsibility for safety on our streets, roads and highways.”
A presentation on the effects of distracted driving in the community was presented by Baldwin County Coroner Dr. Brian Pierce. Entertainment for the event was provided by the Rev. Louis Johnson.
Those in attendance were asked to support the annual scholarship, which will be handed out each year in May.
The money will be held and invested by the Rewards Foundation, a community foundation in Lillian, qualified by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501 ( c ) (3) organization. All gifts will be acknowledged in writing and shared with each of the Zone Optimist Clubs. District 29, Zone 6 represents all of the Optimist Clubs in Baldwin County, including Loxley, Daphne, Fairhope, Foley and Perdido Bay.
“Without advertising this at all, we have already raised $500 for the scholarship,” Keener said.