Awtrey was the son of Hubert Alexander and Edna Irene Kirk Awtrey of Central Park. He attended Ensley High School and enlisted in the U.S. Navy after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. He trained in San Diego, California as a pharmacist's mate and was assigned as a Corpsman with a Marine unit which served in the South Pacific. He earned a Bronze Star, two Presidential Citations and three Asiatic Pacific Battle Stars during his service in the battles of Gloucester, Peleliu, and Okinawa.
In 1948 Awtrey joined the Birmingham Fire Department while also remaining active in the U.S. Army Reserve and working a second job at Seale Lumber Company. He took evening classes in homebuilding and founded his first construction company with Greg Scott in 1959 and went on his own a year later with the Awtrey Building Corporation. He left the fire department in 1962 to devote his full time to his thriving business, which later split into Awtrey Development and Awtrey Real Estate under the Awtrey Companies banner. He chaired the 1966 Parade of Homes and served as president of the Greater Birmingham Association of Homebuilders (GBAHB) in 1968. He went on to serve in the Alabama Association of Home Builders and the National Association of Home Builders, and was appointed to the National Housing Board which reported to the President of the United States on housing issues.
During his career, Awtrey developed a number of residential subdivisions including Russet Woods, Lae Crest, South Wood and Birchwood Estates in Hoover, Derby Downs in Vestavia Hills, Weatherly in Shelby County, Calumet in Trussville, Sleepy Hollow in Pinson, Shady Wood in Roebuck and Apple Valley in Center Point.
Awtrey also led the Partnership for Assistance to the Homeless and served as chair of the Birmingham Housing and Zoning Commission. He was inducted into the GBAHB Hall of Fame in 1986 and the industry group named its annual award for an outstanding builder in his honor. He was also given a "Freedom Award" by the City of Hoover in 2009.