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Celebrating Mother Payne: North Richmond church remembers a matriarch

on September 7, 2011

Graddye Mae Payne, a longtime matriarch of North Richmond Missionary Baptist Church, went by many names in her 97 years: Mrs. Payne, Dr. G.M. Payne and Auntie Graddye among them.

But even though she had no children, she was known to most simply as Mother Payne.

Scores of church members and Payne’s loved ones came together Tuesday to remember a woman marked by wisdom, a passion for teaching, and getting deep-down into her Bible.

Payne, a former Berkeley resident and Oakland Unified School District elementary-school teacher, was an active member of the church for nearly 70 years until she passed away Aug. 29. She led the creation of a multitude of thriving good-will programs, including the church’s soup kitchen, women’s ministry and Juvenile Hall Cake Ministry. The talented public speaker also left her mark on organizations such as the National Council of Negro Women, the Oakland Retired Teachers Association and state and national Baptist conventions.

“She stayed busy and she helped us to stay busy,” said Eulene Brown, a 20-year member of the church who was one of dozens of volunteers that prepped for Payne’s “homecoming celebration.”

Like many church members, Brown attended Payne’s Bible school. She remembered Payne as a patient teacher who used real-life examples to dissect complicated passages.

“She wanted us to get it, and if we didn’t get it, she’d tell us in more than one way,” Brown said.

Brown described Payne as a “very quiet lady” who, at the same time, wasn’t afraid to speak up when she didn’t approve of something that was happening in the church.

“She would like for us to be on time, and for everyone to be dressed the way that they should be,” Brown said, noting that those lessons remain with her today.

In the minutes leading up to the service, Vikki Ford-Alexander, who taught with Payne in Oakland, sat quietly in her seat, reflecting on the decades-long friendship the two shared. Ford-Alexander and Payne ate meals together at least once a week and spent most holidays together, Ford-Alexander said.

“She was faithful, always open, very loving,” Ford-Alexander said. “She was like dial-a-prayer, you know? I considered her my godmother and my friend.”

When Payne’s loved ones had settled, Pastor Dana Keith Mitchell opened the service. “Truly, this is a day that brings about mixed emotions,” he said. “We are missing one that has been with us for a very, very long time.”

Like Payne’s life, the ensuing ceremony was steeped in references to Bible passages, and many individuals spoke joyfully about Payne’s ability to put the Bible’s teachings into action. Others spoke about Payne’s selflessness, and how she would find creative ways to get people the food and clothes they needed, regardless if Payne herself had the means or transportation to do so.

“She had a passion for people, and a passion for ministry, and she did it with excellence,” Mitchell said. “Her legacy will be cherished by North Richmond.”

Payne’s loved ones nodded their heads and shouted “Amen.”

“She is known not simply by the words she said, but by the life that she lived and her character,” he continued. “Hallelujah to character.”

Payne was laid to rest Tuesday at Oakmont Memorial Park in Lafayette.

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