Mike Payne

Mike PayneMike Payne died July 27, 2023. “He and I were neighbors freshman year, roommates the next three years, and brothers for life afterward,” says George Lazarus. “Our families were mirror images of each other. Our fathers were lawyers working in the New York court system, our mothers both worked in education. Mike had a younger sister, I a younger brother. Our families shared similar outlooks and values. There were some differences in our backgrounds. One of us was Black, one White; one Catholic, one Jewish. We respected these differences and learned from each other.

“We also shared this in common: we loved our wives, and consequently, our lives. Sue Payne was indeed committed to Mike in sickness and in health. In health, they enjoyed their lives in both D. C. and Sag Harbor, Long Island. When Mike became ill, it was Sue who took active charge of his medical care, getting him the best care possible.

“Mike had a successful career as a lawyer in the Justice Department. He was an expert in asset forfeiture. His rap on this subject was hilarious. He retired at a relatively young age so as not to deny himself that experience, and he did enjoy the freedom of retirement. He was stoic in his final illness, choosing to focus on the daily pleasures of being alive rather than the prospect of dying. He was unafraid of death and died with his wife and cherished daughter Sydney at his side. He was a content man. We should all be so lucky.

“To say that I will miss my brother is an understatement. But I will carry his memory with me.”

“Mike Payne was one of the defining personalities of my time at Yale,” adds Bruce Heitler. “We ran on the mile-relay team together and had lots of time to talk – sitting together on the bus to Cox Cage, chatting around the track, indoor and out, admiring with Mike’s wry humor athletes we could never keep up with, including Wendel Motley and Jay Luck. Mike would good-heartedly punctuate my inappropriate intensity noting with a gentle jab that I had not brought my Tractatus-Logico-something-or-other, on the track bus. I still quote him from time to time concerning “getting hit by the band” at the Penn Relays on the final stretch of the quarter mile. The band begins to play just as one’s legs protest not only with pain, but with a torturous gait, slower than a walk, for the final 80 yards. That image taught me that even humiliation could be punctured by humor. Mike was a source of profound learning for me, deeper than classes or books.”

“I met Mike Payne at Fordham Prep’” says Jorge Dominguez. “I had just immigrated and spoke little English at a school in the Bronx, where not even the janitor spoke Spanish and the language was not taught in the curriculum. Mike was a track star. He took the initiative of approaching me to make me feel welcome. We must have communicated with signs, but it clicked. Years later, at one of our Yale Reunions, he explained that he had pegged us both as outsiders, and thus reached out to include me.

“Mike was the only Black in our high school class of nearly 200 students; there were no Blacks in the class following us. The track coach, who happened to be my history teacher, routinely made racist remarks in the classroom. I once asked Mike about this during a Yale Reunion. He simply rolled his eyes. I suspect he had to ‘roll his eyes’ many times in different lifetime circumstances.

“Mike was smart, insightful, wickedly offbeat, funny, and often understated. These qualities came together at our 50th Fordham Prep reunion. We were taking turns recounting something about our lives at the Prep and in the years that followed. Somehow, unplanned, Mike became the master of ceremonies, and very effective in this role. When one classmate described allegedly undistinguished years in the US Navy, Mike gently asked, ‘yet you rose to become a Rear Admiral?’ Widespread laughter.

“He was a wonderful human being, whom I greatly miss.”