Gallia civic leader leaves legacy of volunteerism

By Dean Wright -

Jessie Payne waves as she rides down Second Avenue as the Grand Marshal of the Independence Day Parade last summer.

Jessie Payne waves as she rides down Second Avenue as the Grand Marshal of the Independence Day Parade last summer.

THURMAN — Those who have touched the lives of hundreds in small communities often leave behind legacies much larger than they would have ever thought.

Jessie Mae Payne was one such woman. With over 27,000 hours served as a volunteer with Holzer Hospital, she may have even reached thousands of lives. Family, friends and colleagues bid farewell to the spirit of Jessie Mae Payne, 87, of Thurman at the Waugh-Halley-Wood Funeral Home Saturday. Payne passed away Oct. 26 at Holzer Senior Care Center.

While also serving as a hospital volunteer, Payne was a Sunday School Superintendent with Corinth Missionary Baptist Church. She served on the boards of Gallia County Community Action, the Serenity House, the Black History Board, The Gallia County Economic Development Association, the Emancipation Celebration Committee, the NAACP and the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission. The Gallia County Chamber of Commerce held her as the most recent recipient of the Bud and Donna McGhee award, the chamber’s most prestigious community service award.

While being a community-minded individual, her family and friends described her as a humble woman who loved to serve both in and outside of her church. Daughters Carolyn Casey and Sharon Winston described their mother as a master of the kitchen. Payne would often take young women under her wing in the church to teach them the ins and outs of cooking.

“It didn’t matter how long you were outside,” said Casey. “If you went outside, she made sure you washed your hands. It didn’t matter to her who you were.”

“Mom was a good pie maker,” said Winston. “She stopped in later years but her apple pie was the best. She made a lot of pies.”

Casey said she believed her mother was inspired to volunteer in a hospital setting after taking care of parents as they aged, Henry and Nancy Hutchinson.

Winston and Casey said from a young age they learned to tease with their family but also that there was a firm line draw.

“You were going to learn how to do something right and do it right the first time,” said Casey about her mother’s no nonsense discipline.

“She taught us to have good strong values,” said Winston of Payne. “She told us to do what’s right and to try and treat others the way you would like to be treated. Basically the golden rule of the Bible.”

The sisters emphasized their mother would tell them to let their “yes be yes and their no be no.” Say what you mean say the first time and stick to it.

Marianne Campbell, friend, said she remembered when Payne started as a medical volunteer in 1972 with the Red Cross Grey Ladies. Eventually the organization in Gallia would evolve into the Holzer Volunteer Service League. Payne continued volunteering until August of this year.

Colleague and friend Linda Jeffers-Lester said Payne was the type of person who would remember the details of a person’s life and speak with them.

“She just made you feel like you mattered,” said Lester.

Friend Charlotte Patrick said Payne’s life could be compared with the “Coat of Many Colors” song by Dolly Parton. The song references a young woman whose mother creates a colorful coat out of many rags. The daughter takes great pride in the coat, considering herself rich and loved, despite not being financially wealthy.

“Her brightest color in that coat would be her love for God and his church,” said Patrick. “My husband was in the hospital a lot. If I would take him in the ER or he had to go upstairs, by the time I got up there, Jessie was in the room. I’d ask him if he needed anything and he would reply that Jessie was already taking care of him.”

Campbell said she had the pleasure of helping organize the biographical information for Payne’s award ceremony through the Gallia Chamber of Commerce when Payne received the Bud and Donna McGhee Award.

Campbell said seeing the look on Payne’s face when she received the award was worth all the trouble of sneaking around and keeping the award recipient’s name a secret. Payne’s daughters said she continually kept to her reputation of modesty.

Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.

Jessie Payne waves as she rides down Second Avenue as the Grand Marshal of the Independence Day Parade last summer. Payne waves as she rides down Second Avenue as the Grand Marshal of the Independence Day Parade last summer.

By Dean Wright