Her Way: The Anne Rivers Siddons Story

Her Way: The Anne Rivers Siddons Story

Anne Rivers Siddons old photo

ANNE RIVERS SIDDONS ’58 was not one for convention. For the bestselling author and activist who explored her Southern heritage in the modern era, it was something to celebrate as well as cast off.

Although she passed away on Sept. 11, 2019 at the age of 83, she leaves behind a literary legacy that helped redefine the role of Southern women and challenged social and literary conventions.

“She needed to write,” said her stepson David Siddons, a strategic account executive with Nike. “I’d ask, ‘What’s the genesis of your writing,’ and she said, ‘Subjects I care about: the South, crazy relatives, land, race, the role of women.’ The thing Anne always told me — she absolutely had to write.”

Subjects I care about: the South, crazy relatives, land, race, the role of women

In her Fairburn, Ga. high school, Anne was elected both cheerleading captain and homecoming queen and graduated magna cum laude. As a columnist for the Auburn Plainsman, she earned notoriety for her acerbic wit and unapologetic takes on everything from “teatime” and U.S. foreign affairs to Elvis Presley and poltergeists. But it was her pro-integration views following the integration of Little Rock High School in “Death of a Columnist”(11-18-1957) that would cause her removal from the paper.

“What we are advocating when we gather in howling mobs like animals and throw stones and wreck automobiles and beat helpless individuals is wrong, and I don’t care from which of the myriad angles you choose to look at it,” she wrote. “It’s still wrong.”

Anne’s experiences manifested itself in her debut novel, 1976’s “Heartbreak Hotel,” where sorority girls at fictional Randolph University experience a civil rights awakening.

By then, she was working in advertising for Atlanta Magazine, married to Heyward Siddons and helping support his four boys aged 8 to 15 from his previous marriage. If her parents thought it was strange, the feeling was mutual, recalls David.

“She talked about her folks like she was in some ways an alien to them,” said David. “She said ‘growing up and being in college in the fifties, I’m expected to be ‘pinned’ by my junior year, married with a child by 23, then join the Junior League.’”

Though David recalls the success of “Heartbreak Hotel” following its big-screen transformation as 1989’s “Heart of Dixie,” he has more vivid memories of her second novel.

The Siddons moved to a classic Tudor home in an old Atlanta neighborhood near Lennox Square, in part for its proximity to undeveloped woodland. Always fond of animals and nature, David witnessed the horror Anne felt from her attic-turned-writing room when she saw the telltale pink stakes of a new home popping up next door.

“She’s very upset,” recalls David. “She’s looking at the pink stakes going up and she goes ‘House next door. How about a haunted house? How about a house that’s haunted before it’s even built? How about we introduce the architect who builds a house that preys on the individual vulnerabilities of whoever moves in?’”

Anne wrote a 40-page outline for what would become her only foray into horror, 1978’s “The House Next Door.”

“Much of the walloping effect of ‘The House Next Door’ comes from its author’s nice grasp of social boundaries,” writes horror-fiction icon Stephen King in his book “Danse Macabre.” “Siddons is better at marking the edges of the socially acceptable from the socially nightmarish than most.”

Vintage Barbie Bride

Anne was not just unconventional in her writing career, but in her own life as well. At his brother’s U.S. Navy retirement ceremony, the entire family waited for the inevitable clash between David Siddons’ biological mother, Nancy, and his father. What happened instead, David remembers, washed away “30 years of acid.”

Siddons’ pro-integration column so irritated administrators that she was asked to leave The Plainsman.

While discussing their family’s cottage in Brooklin, Maine — inspiration for Siddons’ 1992 book “Colony” and several others — Siddons graciously invited Nancy out the following summer for
not one, but two parties in her honor.

“Anne goes, ‘Nancy, you love Maine the way that I love Maine.’ And then my mom just waxed on about Maine with Anne. They’re having this conversation and I’m thinking, ‘this is unbelievable,’” recalls David.

In her later years, Anne channeled much of her financial resources to causes she cared about most: the environment, animal rights and, most notably, Auburn University.

Siddons contributed $100,000 in 2014 to fund the Heyward and Anne Rivers Siddons Endowed Scholarship. David recently authorized another $100,000 commitment and envisions the endowment continuing year after year.

“People say I’ve broken the mold, and in a sense, I have,” she said in a 1991 interview with People® Magazine. “And yet, sometimes, I can feel in my bones a woman who’s been dead 100 years wagging her finger at me, telling me that a lady doesn’t make waves, a lady doesn’t confront. Sometimes I find myself deferring to some old gentleman with no sense at all. It’s not easy to escape.”

The Next Peak

The Next Peak

Mount Everest

WHAT WAS HUGH MORTON ’69 THINKING when he felt his toes freezing on the slopes of Mount Everest? The same thing he told himself when the housing market collapsed and his homebuilding company tanked. The same thing he told himself when he was diagnosed with leukemia: Don’t stop. Keep going.

In countless journeys around the globe, he faced perils of all kinds, only to find a way forward and out.

“You’ve got to meet the challenge,” said Morton. “Meeting the challenge can be harder than overcoming it.”

An economics graduate at Auburn, he earned his MBA while working as a graduate teaching assistant. He was working in the banking industry for over a decade when, in 1986, he decided to join a guided trek through the Himalayan mountain range. Catching sight of Mount Everest at 18,000 feet, Morton was captivated. He decided to spend the next five years training with a group of experienced climbers, making his first summit on Mount Baker, which is located in Washington, in preparation for the real thing.

The Next Peak: Hugh Morton '69 Graphic for alumni story

When his climbing partner Todd Burleson finally called and formally inducted him into their Everest team, he was ecstatic. But that night, he dreamed he reached Everest’s penultimate point, the Hillary Step, only to slip and fall off the mountain. He woke up in a cold sweat.

Regardless, in 1992 Morton was able to summit Everest on his first attempt, a feat difficult even for experienced climbers. As he descended the Hillary Step, he slipped. Hanging off a 7,000-foot cliff, Morton realized it felt familiar.

“In that dream, I visualized to myself what I would do up there and darn it if I didn’t have to do it,” said Morton. “Everything I imagined ended up happening, except it wasn’t on the way up, it was on the way down. I got back down there and someone said ‘damn good way to make a widow out of your wife.’”

Back home in Atlanta, a lack of a tangible goal left Morton in limbo. When Burleson invited him to tackle the Seven Summits, he jumped at the chance. Over the next 33 years, he would scale 85 mountains around the world, overcoming obstacles on every one.

While summitting the Matterhorn in Switzerland, Morton and his climbing partners were trapped in a ferocious thunderstorm that nearly killed their entire team. Electricity was charging through their bodies, even after reaching basecamp. On his first attempt to summit Mount Elbrus in Russia, Morton brought his daughter Whitney along. When she slipped headfirst down an icy ridge, he had to dive with a body-block to halt her fall.

The first time he attempted to summit Chimborazo in Ecuador, they had to turn around in the face of 100-mph winds.

On Mount McKinley, now called Denali, in Alaska, Morton and his climbing partners narrowly escaped freezing to death after the ice cave they slept in collapsed during the night. While summitting the Vinson Massif, the highest point on Antarctica and the last of Morton’s Seven Summits, his legs froze nearly to the point of frostbite and would not feel normal again for another six months.

Morton was able to fund his adventures through his successful homebuilding business, Peachtree Homes, which he launched in 1991. He estimates he built more than 200 homes by 2006, but when the 2008 Recession collapsed the housing market, he was sleepless for weeks. When his wife took him to the doctor, they learned he had leukemia.

“It came at a bad time — the housing market was falling apart, and I had to deal with that, too. I needed to get the stress off; that’s when I started trying to dwindle [Peachtree Homes] down, finally decided to close it altogether in 2013.”

It’s not the summits that count — it’s the experiences, it’s the shared cultures, the sharing of challenges with other people.; Morton (left) with climbing partner Willi Pritti atop the Vinson Massif in Antartica.

Morton could have declared bankruptcy like most other companies, but it would have left his hundreds of employees without pay. Peachtree Homes’ swan song was the expansion of Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., which he used in part to pay off all his employees. Morton is still proud of that.

“I didn’t want to owe anybody anything; it took a big chunk I had stored aside to do it, but I’m not complaining. If I’m not rich, I’ve got a wealth of experiences with people that is worth more than any money.”

At work on his third book, a mountain-climbing memoir, he still finds time to climb a few easy peaks at 72. But, in the end, he says it was not the peaks that he remembers most. It was the experiences — struggling up the mountain, long days trapped in desolate, snow-capped peaks — that matters most.

“It’s not the summits that count — it’s the experiences, it’s the shared cultures, the sharing of challenges with other people. You don’t throw in the towel when things get tough,” said Morton. “The key to life is persistence — hang in there until the job is done.”

Aconcagua 22,838 ft, Elbrus 18,510 ft, Kosciuszko 7,310 ft, Everest 29,029 ft, Puncak Jaya 16,024 ft, Denali 20,308 ft, Vinson Massif 16,050 ft
The Age of Reason

The Age of Reason

JAMIE LOWE MET ME IN THE FRONT LOBBY of the Lee County Justice Center. He was dressed in a white dress shirt, black sweater vest and sports coat. He escorted me to his office and handed a business card to me: Lowe’s Mediation.

Lowe is a mediator for the family courts of Lee County. He meets with parents going through divorce to help them navigate the process, as well as work out visitation rights and other complexities of legally separating. There is nothing new about mediators, but what makes Jamie Lowe unique is that he is only 20 years old.

While a student at Opelika High School (OHS), Lowe knew health occupation students did internships with local physicians and at East Alabama Medical Center. But Lowe wasn’t interested in the health field, so he asked if he could get a law-related internship. Once approved, he contacted the family court office, and The Honorable Judge Mike Fellows ’94 agreed to let Lowe work in his office. Initially, Lowe observed court proceedings, sat in on referee meetings and researched a few minor case laws.

Jamie Lowe with the Honorable Judge Mike Fellows

“I started out just doing administrative things and earned my way into more responsibility,” Lowe said. “I did some research and then started helping manage the caseload for child-support cases.”

Lowe began shadowing a local attorney in mediation proceedings and was intrigued by the process.

“I am the child of divorced parents, so I was especially interested in how all that worked and how my life experience might benefit me in that role,” Lowe said. “The more I observed, the more interested I got, and I thought, ‘I could do that.’”

So, Lowe took a class and earned his certification as a mediator. At 18 years old.

I asked Fellows how a 20-year-old kid becomes a mediator in the courts.

“He has no idea he is a 20-year-old kid,” Fellows said. “He doesn’t think the way most 20-year-olds think. He is mature beyond his years. He doesn’t show anger or frustration. There have been times when clients have been rude, but Jamie doesn’t let that get to him. He has a very gentle disposition that is very calming during a stressful time for parents.”

Lowe doesn’t see his young age as a barrier, but more of a motivator. He believes his youth offers a different perspective.

“I’ve had a few ‘reactions,’ but once things get going, I think both sides see that I really do know what I’m doing and appreciate my demeanor,” Lowe said. “I let them vent, say whatever they want to say and once they have gotten all that out of their system, I try to calmly diffuse the anger and help them find some middle ground.”

Parents are separated into different rooms, and Lowe moves from one to the other to hear both sides of the story. He tries to determine what is exaggerated, what is totally untrue and where the actual truth lies.

“Once, there was a husband who went on and on about how he mowed his wife’s grass and took care of her lawn and how she didn’t appreciate his kindness,” Lowe said. “Then, I heard her side and it turns out, what he was doing was mowing down her roses; he left that part out.”

what he was doing was MOWING DOWN HER ROSES; he left that part out.

In addition to mediating five days a week, Lowe is also taking 15 credit hours at Auburn University, teaching an anti-shoplifting class to young offenders and tutoring high school and college students in biology, Spanish, math and calculus. He also attends every Opelika City Council meeting and volunteers in the community.

At Auburn, he is a student in the College of Liberal Arts, double-majoring in political science with plans to attend law school to study family law. He also is majoring in Asian studies because of an incident that happened when he was in high school.

During his junior year at OHS, Lowe was part of a group that tested a new school software program. He took an online class in Mandarin Chinese, but didn’t particularly enjoy it, so he did not continue. But the course remained on his high school transcript.

”Jamie

A year later, on an elevator on his way to an interview for a national scholarship, a man began talking to Lowe in a foreign language, but all Lowe heard was noise. When he sat down, there was the man on the panel of judges, introduced as a nuclear researcher.

“It was then that it occurred to me, he had been speaking to me in Mandarin,” Lowe said. “I was embarrassed that I didn’t recognize it and hadn’t been able to carry on a conversation with him, so I decided to pursue Mandarin until I could speak it fluently.”

It is that attitude of never seeing dead ends, his unwavering determination and the goals he has set for himself that keep Lowe focused – and busy.

“I love the feeling of accomplishment, which far outweighs fatigue,” Lowe said. “I have dreams and I don’t let go of them very easily.”

The Midshipman’s Miracle

The Midshipman’s Miracle

THE LAST THING COLE BURTON REMEMBERS about May 24, 2018 was standing on the cliffs at Vulcan in Birmingham, Ala. looking down over the city. He remembers seeing Children’s of Alabama and UAB Medical Center. He could never had known that just hours later, he would be in that very emergency room, fighting for his life.

Cole was with his Auburn University geology class on a research field trip. After their stop at Vulcan, the group traveled to Glencoe, Ala. where they were studying rock formations off Highway 431 when an impaired driver swerved off the road and hit Cole and another student, Nick Hood.

Tragically, Nick did not survive his injuries, passing away a few weeks after the accident. Cole suffered internal injuries, including severe head and brain trauma, resulting in a very bleak prognosis.

“Five days in, the doctors came to us and told us Cole would most likely not have a meaningful recovery,” said Cole’s mother, Tina Burton. “He was unresponsive. They offered the option to discontinue medical services.”

Tina, her husband and Cole’s father, Charlie, and Cole’s sister, Libba, gathered in the back of Cole’s hospital room and prayed. They felt an overwhelming sense of peace and all agreed if Cole was going to die, it would be God’s decision, not theirs. So they told the doctors to do whatever they could to save Cole.

Three weeks later, on June 15, 2018, Cole awoke from his coma and six days after that, he was transferred to the intensive care unit at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. The first thing he remembers is being told he was in a rehab center.

“I demanded a drug test,” Cole said. “I was adamant that I had not used drugs and I wanted to be tested. I was afraid I was going to lose my ROTC scholarship. I could not comprehend that I wasn’t in a rehab center for drug addiction.”

That was the last time Shepherd was referred to as a “rehab center.” From then on it was a therapy center and Cole settled in and began his long, improbable journey.

Cole Burton and Aubie when Aubie visited Burton at the Shepherd Center

From the beginning, every day was a test of endurance, perseverance and determination. Cole was compliant and willing to do whatever was asked of him, no matter how simple or how hard. Because of his ROTC training, he was in great physical condition before the accident, but now almost 40 pounds lighter, he was basically starting over. He was a shell of the person he was just a few weeks earlier but still ready to face each new day with a can-do attitude.

“I always had a peace that tomorrow was going to be better than today, and the next day would be better than tomorrow,” Cole said.

For the next year, Cole worked hard to regain everything he had lost.

The ability to swallow. The dexterity to write. The competency to speak. His infectious, playful personality.

“We were told that often patients with severe head trauma will emerge with a totally different personality,” Tina said. “But Cole was still Cole.”

I always had a peace that tomorrow was going to be better than today, and the next day would be better than tomorrow. Cole Burton

Cole set three initial goals for himself: Get his “six-pack” abs back, run in the Peachtree Road Race and pass the physical training (PT) test to get back in Navy ROTC at Auburn.

On July 4, 2019, Cole, ran – or as he says, “jalked” – his way through the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta. He worked hard to reestablish his six-pack and as of this writing, all he needs to complete his PT is to decrease his running times. He has his driver’s license back and though, 18 months ago it seemed impossible, this amazing young man, who, scientifically, had no chance of a meaningful recovery, took a “tester” class in the summer of 2019 to see if he could handle schoolwork. He took chemistry – and made a B. So, in the fall 2019 semester, he enrolled in Auburn again, this time with 11 hours, picking up right where he left off as a geology student.

It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this; the doctors who treated Cole at UAB were stunned when he went back to visit.

“They couldn’t believe it,” Tina said. “One of them seriously looked like he had seen a ghost. They called the head of neurology to come see. He told Cole, ‘I can’t explain your recovery; you have definitely received a miracle. God has great plans for you.’”

Cole continues to improve every day, knowing his recovery is far from complete.

“You don’t choose your journey; your journey chooses you,” he said. “I’m just trying to make it the very best journey it can be.”

Road to Recovery

Watch as Cole Burton fights to walk again.