Al Payne, Counselor to Generations of Students, Dies

BLACKSBURG, Va., Nov. 10, 2003 – The Rev. Alfred C. Payne, former director of religious affairs, pastor, counselor, and friend to the Virginia Tech community for more than half a century, died Saturday, Nov. 8. He was 87.

"He was a man of conviction, a man of his times, and a man who loved his life here with the extended Virginia Tech family. We will miss him," said Charles Steger, president of Virginia Tech.

Rev. Payne was born in 1916 in Cartersville, Georgia. He graduated from what was then-Clemson College in South Carolina. In World War II, he served as a liaison officer, and was awarded five Battle Stars and two Bronze Stars. He landed in Normandy just days after the D-Day invasion, took part in the liberation of Paris, and eventually served as Historian to V Corps. He completed his divinity degree at Yale Divinity School in 1946.

Rev. Payne, with his wife, Virle, came to Virginia Tech that year as associate YMCA secretary, and he was ordained in the Blacksburg Baptist Church in 1947. He left in 1949 to work with the YMCA in Pittsburgh. After five years there, his YMCA work brought him back to the South, trying to ease the integration of blacks into universities. He returned to Virginia Tech in 1958 to succeed Paul Derring as secretary of the YMCA. He was appointed as assistant to the dean of students at Virginia Tech in 1964, and later served as counselor for religious affairs. While he formally retired in 1981, he continued to serve the university as a friend, pastor and advisor. He participated in the dedication of literally dozens of buildings at the university, including Payne Hall, named to honor him in 1993.

Upon that dedication, Virginia Tech's Board of Visitors recognized him for bringing to the university "the very model of spiritual care and generosity through his ecumenical love for our students, and his steadfast belief in the essential goodness of all those with whom he worked."

Although retired, Payne never strayed far from his flock. "Al frequently dropped by to swap stories about working with students," said Ed Spencer, assistant vice president for student affairs.

Rev. Payne constantly questioned and challenged the thinking of those around him. A 1995 profile in Virginia Tech Magazine notes: "He is a good listener, perhaps from the many years of counseling individuals and advising campus leaders. He listens intently, hoping to hear a thought that solidifies his own perceptions, or that will shed light on others." The article continues, "It's been said that Al Payne would rather discuss than eat, and in a conversation, three minutes won't pass without some topic spinning Payne into a philosophical monologue."

He continued to be honored for his work, and requested to speak for his wisdom. Omicron Delta Kappa, the honorary leadership society, established the Alfred C. Payne Service Award. He has served as honorary Chairman of the United Way of Montgomery, Floyd, and Radford. He was named Blacksburg's Distinguished Citizen by the Chamber of Commerce, and he and Virle have been honored by the Mental Health Association of the New River Valley.

He published two books compiled from thousands of his prayers: A University at Prayer, and A Community at Prayer. A third book was in the planning stages.

Rev. Payne is survived by his wife of 62 years, Virginia Virle Payne of Blacksburg; two daughters, Ann Payne Graham of Virginia Beach and Virginia Payne of Tampa, Florida; grandson Carter Graham and granddaughter Lara Zacharias, both of Richmond, and great-grandson Graham Zacharias. He was pre-deceased by a son, Thomas Payne of Blacksburg.

The family will receive friends at the McCoy Funeral Home, 150 Country Club Dr., Blacksburg, from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday. A memorial service will be held Wednesday at 11 a.m. at the Blacksburg Baptist Church, 550 North Main St.