Remembering Walter Payne

June 14, 2021

Colleagues share their memories of the beloved member of the UM-Dearborn custodial staff who died last month at age 55.

A graphics featuring a photo of UM-Dearborn custodian Walter Payne, smiling, wearing a white shirt and a striped tie.

UM-Dearborn’s Vanessa Maxwell didn’t anticipate the deep work friendship she’d have with her fellow custodial team member when she first met Walter Payne. She recalls Payne’s early attention to detail as he learned the ins and outs of his new position, but that personally, he seemed like a mostly quiet, private man. Over time, however, Maxwell says Walter “came out of his shell completely.” The two friends bonded initially over health and fitness. Their tight-knit custodial team would always eat lunch together, and Maxwell says when Payne first started at UM-Dearborn, his diet wasn’t always the healthiest. She noticed, however, that he seemed interested in the fresh salads she would bring for her lunch. Before long, Payne was not only changing up his own routine, but bringing in healthy foods to share with the whole team. The two were also gym buddies, though she says the guy affectionately known on campus as “the gentle giant” usually preferred a focused workout without much extra gabbing.

One thing Payne wasn’t shy talking about was the news. “I thought of him as the walking news man,” Maxwell says. “He was really interested in current events and what was going on all over the world. I basically didn’t have to watch the news, because I got it every day from Walter.” 

Fellow custodian Delon Jackson says his and Payne’s go-to topics were family life and sports. “One time, I remember we were talking about the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, and he told me that if Michigan didn’t make it, he was going to root for State,” Jackson says. “I told him, you can’t work here and say that out loud — I might have to let the powers that be know that you work for U-M but your heart is with MSU.” But that was typical of Payne. Both Maxwell and Jackson say he was always the person who refrained from passing judgement on others and gave everyone the benefit of the doubt.

Outside of work, Payne was a deeply spiritual man with a rich family life. He was married for 25 years, and he and his wife, Mrs. Tyra Payne, had three children and several grandchildren. He enjoyed camping, video games, basketball and was known as a moral compass to many in his life. Before coming to UM-Dearborn, Payne served in the Inkster Public Schools and worked for Detroit Country Day. On campus, Maxwell says he was known not only for his warm, laid back energy but the quality of his work. As campus coped with COVID-19, for example, Maxwell noted how seriously Payne took the new cleaning and sanitization measures, which helped those still on campus stay safe and healthy.

More than anything, Maxwell says she’ll miss her friend’s ability to bring peace and lightness to every day. “He had a great sense of humor, and I am not exaggerating when I say I looked forward to coming in to work every day because I knew he’d make me and everyone else around him laugh. We will all deeply feel his absence.” 


Have a memory of Walter Payne that you’d like to share with his friends and family? You can post your remembrances through the Chapel of the Chimes funeral home.