Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Cheraw Chronicle ~ Jan 11, 1971

 In 1934, Henry Westbrook Finlayson wrote the Cheraw High School Alma Mater, 'With Loyal Hearts'.  Then he was a bright, handsome, popular Cheraw High senior, now he is a prominent attorney in Gadsden, Ala.

Recently Ann Jones of the Spokesman staff of the high school wrote to Westbrook to find out about him today. "It was just fabulous, and we ran a story in our paper; but we simply did not have space for all that we wanted to say.  :lots of older people called us so we asked Eddie Sweatt if he would like the rest of the story.  He sad he certainly did, and here it is."

When Westbrook was in high school he could always be found where exciting things were going on.  Sports editor for The Chronicle, a marvelous singer at impromptu affairs, he was a good guy with a merry heart and woulds of personality.

In spite of the fact that he had polio as an infant and had always had to wear braces and use crutches, no one ever considered him "handicapped" even Westbrook himself.  He seemed "challenge."  Westbrook's family lived in that big brick house next door to the Old Southland Inn on Market Street in Cheraw.

He was one of three boys and three girls, the children of Burruss and Jennie Wait Foster Finlayson.  Mr. Finlayson was a well-known merchant and his wife, a music teacher for over 60 years.

The year 1934 was in depression days, and most people had to walk where they were going.  Westbrook was no exception.

Whether the crowd was going to Caston Field for a ball game or was meeting at the Methodist Church (where his family were "pillars,") for a hayride, Westbrook would set out for  the meeting, as one old clasmate expressed it, "with that heavenly voice of his."

He always knew the latest popular songs as well as the old sentimental ones, and everybody loved him.  When Westbrook was asked to tell about entering the University of South Carolina in these days of dark depression, he said, "It was a big step for a little fellow."

"State Representative Campbell laney was kind enough to give me my first lift to Columbia and, if memory serves, I carried with me about $1.25 for spending money.  There was waiting for me NYA job at the University Co-op Store.  I was to work under Coach Whitey Rawls as a bookkeeper and was supervised by Prof. Frank Meeks of the university accounting department."

"My high school introduction to the "big band" business seemed to make up too strong a temptation to resist in the days when musicians were both in demand and greatly admired.  My sophomore year I put together an eleven piece band made up of student musicians and a few outsiders, mainly fellows working in the state government. We practiced at old Flinn Hall on Campus.

From every standpoint this was a shaky start; but it was a start.  In time, the personnel of the band was changed, the arrangements were bettered and the group soon showed real signs of progress and some measure of popularity on the campus.

About this time I gave up my job at the Co-op and went into the music business head first as a means of paying for my education.

This seemed a very fine thing to do because there were others in the band at that time who were also dependent upon outside income to help with their education.

As I recall now, many prominent South Carolinians and graduates of the University of South Carolina shared the success of what was later to become on of the State's fine dance orchestras.    Several doctors, an airline pilot, a county school superintendent, a postmaster, to name but a few, made up that first unit. What they lacked in music and experience, they made up for in noise." 

In time, and with personal changes, the band seemed to achieve an enviable status for its musicianship.  They played such places as the Ocean Forrest Hotel at Myrtle Beach; The King and Prince Club at St. Simons Island; and numerous other resorts elsewhere in the area in the Summer. They were booked will in the Fall, Winters, Springs with college and what they called "society jobs."

In 1941, just before Pearl Harbor and the beginning of World War II, the band played an engagement at Ausable Chasm, N.Y., located on Lake Champlain just south of the Canadian border.  After returning to Columbia in the Fall of 1941, the band's personnel seemed to fly apart as many of our men were called into service.

Fortunately, however, because the band was playing so many armed service installations, they worked out an arrangement to use some army personnel stationed at Ft. Jackson. 

With them they had, not only fine musicians, but some of the finest arrangements in the country.  This was to result in making contact with some fine personnel who came to make up the band as soon as the war was over. "I left school in 1939 because I could not keep up the pace with the band and still attend classes properly," said Westbrook.

"In 1941, however, I went back to the University and took some post graduate and special subjects in writing and psychology in order to qualify me for entrance into law school.  The latter part of 1942 saw me standing on the sidelines while the other male members of my family were either in the armed forces or on war jobs.  Having a great love for my country, as I still do, I looked into the possibility of obtaining a commission with the special Services section of the army that bandleader Glenn Miller had entered.

This branch required no physical examination , and one representative of the Army told me that I was being given consideration for a commission in the branch about time that Congress did away with the department over a hassel involving President Roosevelt's appointment of Mayor Leguardia of New York as Governor General of Italy, once it had been taken over.  This meant that I could see no form of service at all, so I went about looking for something to do.  I served as an assistant to the accountant of a large firm in Columbia for about a year. 

In time I took position with the U.S. Army Air Corps as an assistant property auditor.  This turned out to be a very interesting job involving a sizable contribution to the war effort, but, true to my promise to myself, I left it just as soon as Japan surrendered and went to work setting up the machinery for the new band.  I knew the band I had on paper could be sensational.  All of the contacts I had made with the service musicians set me on fire to get started.

Somewhere along the line in the earliest days of my music career, while appearing in Columbia at The Township Auditorium, the late Jimmy Dorsey advised me to drop the name "Finlayson" from my band name and to call it simply "Henry Westrbook and His Orchestra".

The new band assembled in due time and again under that name and, after enrolling myself in law school, I was in business!  The success of the new Big Band is fairly well known in old timers in the Columbia area.  What may not be as well known is that I had overlooked a little rule involved in my law studies.

At that time the university law school would not permit a law student to engage in any kind of work or activity other than the study of law.  I suppose this is still the case.  Since it was an impossibility for me to attend law school if I did not have the income from the orchestra, I blinked at the rule and survived two full years of work before Dean Prince, the dean of the law school, found out that Henry Westbrook and 'Westbrook Finlayson' were one and the same.

When he did find out, it was with real understanding that we discussed the matter in his private office.  I was told, none the less, that I had to give up one of the other - law school or the band.

My contention was that giving up the band meant giving up both.  Giving up law school was certainly not what I wanted to do.

The glamor of the bandleader had long since been dimmed to the long hours, long trips, and personal troubles.  As long as I remained in Columbia I would be tempted to play the jobs that came my way in order to help myself and the men in the band.

I knew, of course that this was a decision that I alone, had to make.  The best thing to do seemed to be to remove the temptation of playing by changing schools - going where they had never heard of the band.

The Dean and several other faculty members offered to write fine letters of recommendation to any school to which I would apply for entrance.  I guess I  hated most of all leaving the high office to which I had recently been elected.  I was, understand, the only junion to be elected to the Honor council of the law School at that time."

After looking over several schools, Westbrook decided to go to the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University in Macon.  This was a small ivy league type school with an excellent program in corporation law and a building he could get around in quite well.

It would be the first time that he had ever been able to go in school without working, and through the generosity of several members of my family and my good credit, he was able to go without any kind of outside activity.  For the first time he could appreciate what it was to go to school as a student rather than a working man.

It proved quite a relief to be away from the constant attention and notoriety of being a band leader.  Even a "territory name" band got a lot of attention in those days.

New friends took him for what he was as a person; and somewhere along the line he began to see that God must have intended him to be something more than a musician.  Indeed, it was out of many struggles and many disappointments that he came upon the realization that God must have been taking a special interest in him and that he was not returning His love with due obedience.

In a sort of gradual awakening he became more sensitive to the spiritual and less attentive  to the the worldly.  He found himself trying to go to church every time the doors would open.  While he was learning law, he was even assisting Dean F. Hodge O'Neal with the writing of his book on bankruptcy.  From graduation, he went directly to a position as Associate Counsel of General Newspapers, Inc with offices in Gadsden.

In time he met and married a beautiful girl named Esther Davidson of Gadsden.  Her ancestors can be traced back to Rockingham, N.C. within only  twenty-two miles  of his own birth place.

"Esther and I have six children," said Westbrook, "ranging in ages from eight to eighteen.  The oldest boy is in his first year of college and also plans to be a lawyer.  His name is the same as mine, but they call him 'Brooky'."  The next oldest is a girl, Jennie, who is, we think and accomplished folk singer-guitarist.  All six of the children are bright and beautiful, at least in the eyes of their loving father.

"All I am happy to say, like their mother, are deeply spiritual.  The older ones, like their parents, follow the Wesleyan Armenian Evangelical beliefs in old Methodism although Esther was first a Baptist.  Most of them sing, some are artistic, and all are exceeding healthy."

Westbrook's profession has been largely in the fields of corporations, estates, wills, trusts and management.  It is a successful practice, claiming a good list of distinguished people and clients.  Within the past three years, he has been able to build a new Williamsburg-styled law office in downtown Gadsden, with ample space for continuing growth.  He has a staff of three girls and associate  - a research man - and two certified public accountants for special work. Another lawyer will join the firm next Summer and, in time, his son should come into the firm as well.

When he was asked where his brothers and sisters are, Westbrook replied that Wofford is a commercial artist in Columba; Murdock is a retired accountant, also in Columbia; and Ainsworth is a government historian in Macon Georgia.  Rutha Dyal, the oldest sister, is a music teacher and voice coach in Blackville; Florence is a retired teacher in Columbia; and Jennie Llew Guyton, wife of the late Dr. C.L. Guyton, who practiced in Cheraw for some years, also lives in Columbia.

Westbrook is a very busy man.  His hobbies include woodworking, fishing, table tennis, music composition, singing, writing and enjoying spectator sports.  He is the author of both words and music to some popular songs of the few years back, "All This," "Waltz in the Sky," "You're the Only One," "Just Out of Reach," and "Roll Down the Field." the last fight song for Cheraw High.

Westbrook's address is 2624 Scenic Highway, Gadsden, Alabama 35901.

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