Earthalee Layne made history as one of the first African-American women to integrate Sacred Heart School, a Roman-Catholic high school in Washington, D.C.
It was an experience Layne's family said helped her become confident in her identity.
"There were a lot of stereotypes about African Americans but she said she was there to get educated and she focused on that," said Antonio Workman, Layne's son. "It helped develop her into the woman she became later on as she met with a lot of transitions within her life. She was always able to identify with who she really was rather than what people expected her to be."
Layne, who at one time worked at Newsday as an editorial assistant, died at her daughter's Uniondale home Friday after being diagnosed with ALS. She was 79.
Born Earthalee LaBoard in Charleston, S.C., on March 12, 1934, she moved to Washington, D.C., in 1943. After graduating from high school, Layne began working as an independent cosmetologist and eventually moved to St. Albans, Queens.
In 1951, Layne married John Isaac Layne and the couple had two children before divorcing in 1954. She married Rawle Francisco Frederick Workman and settled in Uniondale in 1962. The couple had three children.
Throughout their childhood, she brought her children to museums, dance shows and musical performances. Her children said it expanded their horizons culturally and that it's something they try to share with their own families.
In 1953, Layne decided to go to nursing school. Though she graduated in 1954, she opted to work in child care at a day care in Merrick.
In the 1970s, Layne began working at Newsday as an editorial assistant where she worked with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Jimmy Breslin and Les Payne.
"We would always have reporters spending the night, laying on couches or something because they couldn't go home or were on standby to do stories," said Aurora Workman, Layne's daughter.
The experience gave Layne an appreciation for hard facts, and helped to drive her interest in her genealogy.
"I think there were some gaps in her life she wanted to make sure she could fill with information and facts as opposed to hearsay and conversation," Antonio Workman said.
While at Newsday, Layne also worked as a real estate agent.
Layne eventually moved to Goose Creek, S.C., where she became a member of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church and joined the local book club, among other local organizations. She volunteered with Meals on Wheels and also served as tour guide for the historic homes of Charleston. She also enjoyed traveling, tending to her garden, photography, videography, and all of the concerts and attractions of Charleston.
Throughout her retirement, Layne enjoyed spending time with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who came to visit her year-round at her South Carolina home.
Along with son Antonio Workman of Parsippany, N.J., Layne is survived by another son, Steven Layne of Summerville, S.C., daughters Aurora Workman of Uniondale and Jocelyn Layne of Baldwin; five sisters, Rose Mary Edward and Cecelia Beverly of Washington D.C.; Delores Dillard of Tyner, N.C.; Marian Shakir of Greenbelt Md.; and Septima Hodges of Mesa, Ariz., as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She was predeceased by a son, Marcello Layne, and brothers Silas and Alphonso.