Alla “Momma Faye” Austin was born on September 24, 1933, in Lampasas TX to parents Florine and Fay Brown. Although an only child, she was surrounded by love from an extended family that included grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. In particular, her father Fay Brown and grandfather Herbert Pickett, taught her the importance of hard work and independence; both were successful businessmen and entrepreneurs.
Her mother’s family, the Doolittles, raised a cadre of civic minded, strong willed, and college educated women. This was no easy feat, especially in the 1930’s when there were little opportunities for women and people of color. Alla was at the top of the class in her primary school years; her aunts were the teachers as well as the principal and so she had no choice but to excel. From these ladies, she learned the value of education and resilience. Lessons she would later impart on her children and grandchildren. Since there were no black high schools in Lampasas, Alla relocated to Austin Texas and boarded with other young ladies to attend Anderson High School. Alla graduated from high school with plans to attend college in the fall. Her plans would be derailed after she met and married a young serviceman Bernard Palmore at age 18 and her first child Yvonne “Bonnie” was born shortly thereafter. Bernard’s military service would take them to Pensacola Florida, where the couple settled into their new lives and their growing family. Tragedy strikes while in Florida as their 2nd child Beverly becomes severely ill and eventually passes at the age of 6 months. Alla was devastated with the loss of her child, but her faith and strength kept her going.
After Bernard left military service, he realized there were more opportunities for work in the North. As he was originally from Chicago, he convinced Alla that was where they needed to be. The family would move once again, this time to Chicago Illinois where they welcomed their 3rd child, Vicki. While in Chicago, the family thrived. Bernard worked while Alla stayed home and raised the children. Alla and Bernard enjoyed entertaining friends and attending the many Balls and Galas that would be thrown in the city throughout the year. Eventually the marriage would end, and Alla found herself and her two girls relocating once again and this time to Denver, Colorado. By this time, her mother, father, and other relatives had relocated to Pueblo, Colorado to work in the steel mills. As Alla and the girls settled into life in Denver, times were tough, but the family was happy and there was nearby support from the grandparents in Pueblo. Alla was able to secure a household staff position with the Governor’s mansion and was a caretaker for the family during Stephen McNichol’s term as Governor. For a short period after, she also worked for Governor Love. She took great pride in working for the Governor’s family. As chance would have it, many years after she worked for the McNichols family, her son Jay would receive a prestigious artist award presented by then mayor Bill McNichols (Governor’s brother). Mayor McNichols immediately recognized Alla and Bonnie from the time they spent at the Governor’s mansion.
Alla loved to read, but not fiction or romance novels. No, her library included books on medical research or “how to” books. One thing she loved more than reading was music. Alla loved music! She and her girlfriends would travel near and far to hear and dance to the latest music. This love for music would lead her into the arms of a musician and a soldier originally from Fontana California and now based in Denver. John Johnson was a handsome, charismatic, and talented musician. In 1964, their only child Jay Johnson was born. Their love of music was something they passed on to Jay and continues to this day in his work with music.
During the 1970’s, Alla helped to coordinate the breakfast program with the Black Panthers. These were turbulent times during the civil rights movement and Alla wanted to do her part to contribute to the movement. This was where she first received the name “Momma Faye”. She was beloved by everyone associated with the program. Her young son Jay as well as girls Bonnie and Vicki were all active in the black panther party and they were inspired by their mother’s call to political activism.
Tragedy would strike again in 1987 when Alla lost her 2nd child, Vicki at age 30. The loss of Vicki was particularly tough for Alla and she spent months and years grieving; however, she needed to be strong for her grandchildren that she now had to raise. Jontae and Jamar were 8 and 6 when their mother passed. Alla with the help of her son Jay, they became mother and father to the 2 children ensuring their well-being and care.
Alla eventually transitioned from her work at the Governor’s mansion to a position at Stapleton airport and eventually DIA before retiring in 2001. Having developed some serious medical challenges, Alla moved in with her son Jay and his family so that she could be cared for. She enjoyed countless hours reading, singing, and dancing with her grandchildren. She loved to decorate the home for the holidays and thoroughly enjoyed spending time with her extended families during Thanksgiving and Christmas. During this time, Alla lost another child, her beloved Bonnie. Alla remained resilient and was a pillar of strength now with the loss of her 3rd child. Alla lived with Jay’s family for 14 years until she suffered a stroke and required full-time 24-hour care.
Alla remained a devout Christian until she passed. Although unable to attend church in her final years, she thoroughly enjoyed reading the bible and watching the ministry programs on television. In May of this year, she lost her 9-year-old great grandson Maur’Tae after an unsuccessful lung transplant; again, she remained resilient. She was the matriarch of our family, a shining light that guided us all through our trials and tribulations. Mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and friend, she has impacted our lives in so many positive ways and no one will ever fill that hole in our hearts. We will live on with the memory of not only how much we loved her but also how much she loved us all!
Alla was called home to glory on May 22, 2021. She leaves to cherish her beautiful memory, her son Jay Johnson (Alice), grand-daughter Jontae Palmore (Maurice); grandsons Jamar Palmore, Kellin Wade, Terrell Matheny, Jay Johnson Jr (Erin), DeVaughn Johnson, Jordan Johnson, Kobe Johnson; great grandchildren Jaysun, Lyriq, Jaisiah, Maur’Jon, and Kree. Alla joins in heaven her parents Fay and Florine Brown, daughters Bonnie, Beverly, and Vicki; and great grandson Maur’Tae.
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