by Henry Lane Hull
Helen and Sandy Quillan were an unforgettable couple. She was the daughter of Dr. Joe Layman, the local pharmacist who operated the former Peoples Drug Store on the corner of Main and Church streets.
Sandy spent his career working in the store, walking back and forth each day from their home farther down Main Street next to Grace Episcopal Church. In retirement he changed his daily trek to and from the post office. He wore a brim cap, which he tipped in gentlemanly fashion whenever he passed a lady. By modern standards, Sandy was definitely “old school.”
Dr. Layman enjoyed practicing his profession and took personal interest in his customers, many of whom thought of him as their second doctor. He too was “old school,” never too busy to be helpful in answering questions and offering advice. Everyone who dealt with him knew that his first interest was his commitment to helping his customers become well.
When Helen was in her 30s, she suffered a major stroke, which left her partially paralyzed for the rest of her life. Despite her limitations, she remained one of the most cheerful and happy people I ever knew. She raised their daughter, Gladys, to grow up with the same qualities of life that she manifested.
She went everywhere with Sandy pushing her wheelchair, both of them delighted to be together and always expressing their genuine concern for others. I do not think they ever considered themselves to be deserving of sympathy, instead, everyone admired their determination to lead productive lives. Helen had a piquant sense of humor, making comments on the passing scene, but never disparaging anyone else’s views. She was a focused Christian and her level of belief was apparent to all who met her.
At home Sandy rigged up his own ramp from their back door for Helen’s wheelchair long before the Americans With Disabilities Act set any standards for such construction. He had their lives so well organized that he could work at the drug store full-time and be Helen’s full-time caregiver.
The Quillans enjoyed getting out, visiting friends and dining, particularly at Lee’s Restaurant, where their many friends table-hopped to chat with them. They both exuded perpetual happiness, punctuating their conversations with questions about others’ health, children or travels. They truly enjoyed life to the fullest.
Ironically, Sandy’s sister, Jane, was the wife of another stroke patient, Grover Hastings, and as with Sandy, she made the most of their situation, continuing to teach full-time at the high school and taking Grover in his wheelchair on long trips, undeterred by any obstacles that they might encounter.
To see the two couples dining together in the restaurant was nothing short of inspiring, with Jane and Sandy assisting Grover and Helen with their meals. Grover died in 1985, 21 years after his stroke, and Jane in 2004. Sandy died at 77 in 2007, leaving Helen to survive him by 10 years.
Helen’s brother, Ed Layman, has written a wonderful account of their family history, entitled, Behind Those Happy Smiles. It is an intensive look into the history of Kilmarnock across the course of the 20th century. He treats the work as a family history, but it is much more a documentation of life in the ironically named “Crossroads,” as Kilmarnock initially was called. I use the adverb “ironically” inasmuch as to this day Kilmarnock has no crossroads.
For her part, Helen’s profound contribution was in demonstrating that illness or misfortune need not alter one’s personality, that we all have much for which we should be grateful and that life is indeed good.
Helen Layman Quillan, July 2, 1931 – November 29, 2017. R.I.P.