Layton’s legacy: Service to country, community and passion for Georgetown

GEORGETOWN – The Town of Georgetown, Sussex County and the State of Delaware has lost a notable figure in its history with the passing of W. Layton Johnson.

Mr. Johnson, a retired National Guard brigadier general who was Georgetown’s mayor 1962 to 1988 and town crier for Sussex County Return Day festivities from 1992 through 2012, passed away Thursday, Feb. 12. He was 89.

W. Layton Johnson - former Georgetown Mayor, Retired Brigadier General and longtime town crier for Sussex County Return Day - passed away Thursday, Feb. 12.

W. Layton Johnson – former Georgetown Mayor, Retired Brigadier General and longtime town crier for Sussex County Return Day – passed away Thursday, Feb. 12.

“If you’re doing a ‘Mr. Georgetown’ – Layton certainly would be your poster boy for Georgetown. In my mind he considered this HIS town,” said Jim Bowden, a Return Day director and president of the Georgetown Historical Society.

“Georgetown has suffered a big loss,” said Sussex County Return Day President Rosalie Walls. “He was one of the standard posts here in Georgetown, that’s for sure, with not only being mayor but town crier. And he was so well known in the National Guard.”

“He was a staple around Georgetown. He was Georgetown as much as Georgetown was him,” said State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, a former Georgetown mayor and councilman. “And you can’t discount his military service. He was a retired brigadier general.”

Last November at age 89, Mr. Johnson served as grand marshal for the 2014 Return Day Parade, having passed the town crier baton to Kirk Lawson, whose great-uncle Ronnie Dodd had served as town crier from 1962 to 1990 prior to Mr. Johnson’s tenure.

Special tribute in the 2014 Return Day program was paid to Mr. Johnson, who was in failing health.

“I am so glad I was able to make him grand marshal last return day,” said Ms. Walls. “He was there for all of the grand marshal honors.”

Mr. Bowden said Mr. Johnson loved to share his passion for Georgetown, Sussex County and the history.

“Anytime he ever was out and about in all of his different functionalities between brigadier general and whatever else … he was ‘Mr. Georgetown.’ He represented and talked about his hometown as the place for people to come,” said Mr. Bowden. “That always impressed me.”

For 11 Return Day events, from 1992-2012, Mr. Johnson proudlyread the election returns from the Sussex County courthouse balcony – a ceremonial part of Sussex County’s unique post-election tradition dating back the late 18th century.

“Layton enjoyed that job so much; you could tell when was up on the podium,” Mr. Bowden said.

“He loved Return Day. That was one of his favorite things,” said Sen. Pettyjohn. “After Ronnie Dodd stopped doing it, Layton added his own little twist on the event and on the reading of the returns. He thoroughly enjoyed doing that. It was one of his highlights. He was happy to do it, but he also realized that it was an honor to be able to do it; to be up there and kind of speak for the town and speak for the entire County.”

Mr. Johnson, a certified professional accountant, owned a business that helped people with their taxes.

“I knew Mayor Johnson from when I was a small kid. Our family got our taxes done by him for as long as I can remember,” Sen. Pettyjohn said.


Sen. Pettyjohn remembers Mr. Johnson as Mayor of Georgetown “from the time that we were still a town that was actually a circle. Under his watch the town started its growth and started in the direction where we are right now. He was very instrumental in that growth.”

Sen. Pettyjohn, when contemplating running for elected town positions, said he went to Mr. Johnson.

“I asked him what he thought of me running and he questioned me a little bit about why I wanted to run and my feelings about where the town should be going. He was very supportive when I decided to run,” Sen. Pettyjohn said. “He has always been a wealth of knowledge and a wealth of wisdom, actually. He was always there to lend his ear and to give you some of that institutional knowledge that he had.”

Service arrangements are pending.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at

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