Eddie Payne spent his life helping others.
Payne, an ordained minister, was best known for more than three decades for work with youngsters in track programs in West Baton Rouge and surrounding parishes.
The Port Allen resident died Dec. 1 from complications after a fall he suffered in Houma, where he was helping to rebuild a home destroyed during Hurricane Ida.
Payne was 71.
He was active in youth sports, particularly with track and field programs including Hershey Track & Field, USA, AAU, varsity track (particularly at Port Allen High, but also at schools throughout the area) and LSU track.
“Eddie was all about Port Allen track,” said longtime Port Allen High School track coach John Williams. “He was always there, and really wanted to see it do well, no matter what.
“He took a liking to it through his daughter Christina, but he stayed involved long after she graduated,” he said. “He loved track, he loved the kids, and he was never a fair-weathered track fan … it seemed like he was always there.”
Payne also competed in the Senior Olympics.
The list of track competitors he trained over the years would likely amount into the hundreds. The list of performers he mentored included Andre Hal (who later played for the Houston Texans), three-time All-American and SEC champion Siedda Herbert Hinds and Port Allen record-setter Chris Murphy.
Payne was a tough, but loving coach who took team members to the limit.
It was not only about becoming a successful track competitor, Hinds said.
“He was teaching us about ambition and work ethic,” she said. “I didn’t always enjoy going to practice when I was a teenager, but he instilled in us the values of what it takes to achieve success.
“A lot of what I’ve achieved in life came from the work ethic he instilled in me,” Hinds said.
Murphy, who would later work alongside Payne during high school track meets, considered him one of his greatest role models.
“Eddie was more like a mentor, teaching more about track and how to be an even better coach,” he said. “He would look at the kids, see what they could do and can’t do and put them in the right place to compete better.
“Aside from that, he taught me about life in general … being mentor, on the track, a family man, a minister,” Murphy said. “He taught me a lot about all areas of life.”
Payne’s death left a huge void in the community, Port Allen girls track coach Brian Bizette said.
He said it will be strange not to see him at meets.
“Eddie was always there,” Bizette said. “He was always uplifting, and just helped anyone who wanted help.”
The City of Port Allen several years ago honored Payne for his years of volunteerism when it named a street in his honor.
Payne was also active in the LHSAA track meets each year at LSU’s Bernie Moore Track Stadium.
It’s impossible to replace Eddie Payne, said Brady Perry, who coached track 31 years at Brusly High School.
“He was always a volunteer at our high school meets and volunteering at LSU,” Perry said. “We’ve lost a lot of those volunteers in the last few years, and we just don’t see nearly as many these days who are willing to step up the way he did.”
The volunteer work Payne did in Houma that led to his death was symbolic of how he spent much of his life,” Murphy said.
“On the day of that accident, he was doing what he loved … helping people,” he said.
He was also a minister with the Church of Christ, Port Allen.
He was survived by his wife, Gail Williams Payne; mother, Rena Carter Payne; daughter, Christina Payne Hull (Malachi, Sr.); son, Jonathan Payne (Orion); sisters, Victoria Louis, Ida Godfrey, Deloris Moore, Sadie Woods (LeeDell), Rena Thomas and Idell Forest; brothers, Charles Young and Eric Ray Payne (Anitra); grandchildren, Malachi, Jr., Michael and Malina Hull and Jonathan Payne, II. Preceded in death by his father, Eddie Payne, Jr. and 3 children, Eddie, IV, Angel and Nathaniel Payne.
Visitation will be held Friday, Dec. 10 from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Hall Davis and Son of Port Allen, 1160 Louisiana Ave.
Visitation continues Saturday, Dec. 11 at Goodwood Church of Christ, 10715 Goodwood Blvd., Baton Rouge.