Don Rickey Payne was born September 7, 1960, in Tyler, Alabama. His mother and father, Geraldine and Malcolm “Tiny” Sawyer, Jr., preceded him in death. He received his primary education in Alabama, and after moving to Ohio, finished his education in the Public School System of Cleveland, OH, graduating from Glenville High School (1979). He went on to earn his Bachelor of Science (Cum Laude), Management/Computer Information Systems from Park University (2008).
Don received Christ as his Lord and Savior, September 18, 1983. He became a member of the Antioch Baptist Church (ABC) on February 14, 1999. Don’s spiritual calling was to become a member of ABC’s Security Ministry team. He also found fellowship and camaraderie among the women and men who served along with him. A reserved man, he found joy, peace, and fulfillment serving in this capacity and prepared for Sunday shifts just as he’d approached everything: committed, leave on time to arrive ahead of time, learn the mission, and do the job to the best of your ability. He remained a member until he departed this earthly life on April 19, 2021.
Don was united in holy matrimony to Janine (Jan) Sands Payne on February 20, 1982, in Cleveland, OH. To this day, Don would say that while both were employed at the downtown May Company department store, Janine asked for his phone number, not the other way around. She adamantly disagrees and fondly recalls his many visits to the portrait studio (where she was employed). She recounts, “He came back several times and finally asked for my number!” Through God’s orchestration, they were blessed from their union with two children: Keenan, born at Lakenheath Hospital, United Kingdom (UK; 1989), and Briana at Andrews Air Force Base, MD (1992).
Don enlisted in the United States Air Force (USAF), February 1981, and his first duty station was at Incirlick, Turkey, Air Base (July 1981). It was here that he made longtime friends, like J.C. Grant.
Don and Jan’s first duty station was at Vandenberg AFB, California (1982-1987). He became passionate (okay, maybe obsessed) about perfecting the skill of boogie boarding. He’d wear a huge smile on his face as he rode the waves of the Pacific Ocean with a “look at me, mom” glow. He’d spend hours on the water and enjoying fishing - a hobby he and his brothers honed and shared with their dad.
While stationed at Royal Air Force Bentwaters, UK (1987-1990), he and Jan traveled to Germany, France, Belgium, and other areas in Europe. They enjoyed hosting family and friends at each military tour – with fabulous itineraries planned by them. He considered it a blessing to share his experiences with others and has said, “I am doing things in my life that I never imagined – and to think – when I was younger, all I wanted to do was to make at least $5.50 per hour!” His heart remained humble at every blessing that God allowed in his life. After returning stateside, he was stationed at the following locations in Virginia: The Pentagon and the Defense Information Systems Agency, where he honorably retired from the USAF.
Don began a civilian career at Lockheed Martin that returned him to work in the Pentagon, including that fateful day, September 11, 2001. Don often verbalized his gratefulness to God for sparing his life that day and prayed for the families that lost loved ones and friends. He joined the Federal Government in 2010 as a Telecommunications Specialist in the Over-The-Air Unit in the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Office of Investigative Technology. He deeply loved his work, the camaraderie of colleagues, and his capacity to support its mission until April 2021.
Keenan and Briana were his pride and joy. In their youth, he thoroughly enjoyed the weekly shuffle that he shared with Jan as “taxis for the kids”, taking them to soccer practices and games, instrumental lessons, overnights, birthday parties – you name it - he embraced every part of being a dad and an integral part of their lives. As they grew older and started to make college decisions, he shared advice received from his dad, “You can either start now or later, but the same amount of time will pass regardless of what you decide, so you might as well make it worthwhile.” He was exceptionally proud to see Keenan and Briana graduate from college.
At ease in any conversation, Don was well-read on politics, sports, technology, and world events. Predominantly, there was not a topic of discussion that he couldn’t contribute. Often, he’d remain quiet during debates about a subject but would offer a concise and convincing argument when asked his opinion. He maintained his tie to his native Alabama and loved sharing with people that his hometown is approximately 15 minutes from Historic Selma – “The heart of the civil rights movement.” For some time, Don journeyed yearly to Selma, where thousands of marchers, government officials, and other public figures gathered for the historic rallies and Bloody Sunday marches. Don, Jan, and his family were there in 2008 when President Barack Obama gave a rousing speech on race in America at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge - this, during the 50th anniversary of the brutal police assault on civil rights demonstrators that spurred the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
Don loved to barbecue outdoors and was known for his special marinade on California cut “Tri-tip,” baked macaroni and cheese that he learned to perfect by assisting his mom in the kitchen holiday-and-family event-after-event, and lasagna. He passed down his family recipes to his children and life lessons about caring for one’s household - in and outside of the home. He could repair just about anything and painted every wall in the house – a craft he honed in his youth.
Don R. Payne is survived by his wife of 39 years, Janine; two devoted children, Keenan and Briana; brothers and sisters, Michael Sawyer (Gloria), Bernard Sawyer (Tracey), Kashem Sawyer (Doris), Shawn Posey (Melanie), Jonicia Thurston (Lamar), Nigel “Pete” Posey (Lashunda), and Akilah Posey. His aunt, Dorothy Payne-Yehuda; Patricia Posey (stepmother; Jonah, deceased); mother-in-law, Mary Smith Sands; sister- and brother-in-law, Nadine Sands, and Eddie B. Sands, Jr.; dear cousins that were like sisters to him, Mildred Tompkins (Tom); Bessie Hunter (Tommie); Tarser White Slay (Gilbert, deceased), and cousin Vincent “Joe” White, and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins.
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