Grandfather Claus

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    Howard Payne’s office isn’t one filled with accolades and awards on the wall. There are a few plaques and a TCU baseball cap decorating the bookshelf, along with a bright blue lunch box.

    The office is fitting for an 82-year-old who knows that people matter most.

    To some, the title of office assistant hardly encompasses what Payne has contributed to TCU for more than two decades.

    Jodi Norman, a former TCU student, has an especially close relationship with Payne – one that spans 20 years.

    Payne is a father figure that offers direction, example and support to many students, she said.

    “If there was an ambassador of TCU, it would be him,” Norman said.

    Born and raised in the south side of Fort Worth, Payne has seen the city at its best and worst.

    Growing up during the Great Depression, Payne said much of his time was spent making do with what he’d been given.

    He said his family was fortunate in that his father’s job provided them with maybe a little more than most.

    He said people were hungry back then and recalled his mother always giving passers-by a cup of coffee and fried-egg sandwich.

    “Those were the days,” he said with a smile that never left his face.

    After spending three years in the service, Payne enrolled at TCU.

    With a twinkle in his eye and a mischievous grin, Payne said it was at TCU where he met his wife, Mildred.

    Payne began the memory of meeting Mildred on the second floor of the Bailey Building.

    They were both representing their respective Methodist churches at an informational meeting on campus and “one thing lead to another,” he said.

    They have been married 58 years.

    Working in the West Texas oil business and then for himself, Payne kept returning to TCU.

    The couple first volunteered at TCU with Frog Camps, orientation and “this, that and the other,” Payne said.

    “It’s been so good that TCU has let me hang on this long,” he said.

    Though Payne has two sons, he said the women at TCU have been like daughters to him throughout his work in the female residence halls.

    He said he served as the “out-of-town father” for the Delta Gamma sorority in the ’60s, attending formals when fathers couldn’t.

    He also gave a student away at her wedding.

    No matter what he’s doing, be it a big or small thing, he does it with the same heart, Norman said.

    “TCU is his whole life,” she said.

    Payne, who also serves as TCU’s Santa Claus, said he feels that the students like having a grandfather-figure.

    “It’s like taking vitamins every day when you get out here,” Payne said. “You just pep yourself up by being here.”

    Payne proudly displayed multiple photographs of students he’s met throughout the years, one of which was Miss Texas 2000, Tara Watson.

    Norman, once one of those students, said meeting Payne “had quite a profound effect” on her life.

    Since TCU is their whole life, Mildred Payne said, the couple hasn’t missed a TCU graduation since 1968.

    Payne said TCU keeps them young.

    “How fortunate and lucky can I get?” he said.

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