Payne remembered as a big man with a big heart

Mack Payne had the build of a bull — burly and broad. Those who knew him well would say he was definitely designed for a purpose — he had to be sizable in order to carry a big heart that he often utilized in caring for his family and others.

Funeral services for Arthur Mack Payne of Pine Bluff, who stood over 6 feet tall and weighed around 250 pounds in his athletic prime and easily could have been mistaken as a professional wrestler, were conducted Saturday, Jan. 18, at Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church. He died Sunday, Jan. 12, at the age of 63.

“He was like a father to me,” said his son-in-law, Jeff Pulliam. “My dad died when I was 13, and when I met him several years later when (Payne’s daughter) Chanta and I started dating when we were students at Jackson (Miss.) State University, it didn’t take long for us to begin growing close. Sometimes he even defended me over his daughter. Some people thought he was my dad.”

Pulliam, whose mother died about a decade after his father, said he was blessed to have had Payne in his life for more than 20 years.

“He taught me a lot about being a man,” Pulliam said. “We would discuss the Bible, words of wisdom. He told me to always do right. He was always doing something to help others. To me, he was a giant with a huge heart, always humble and kind.”

Pulliam said his wife was the only child of Payne and his wife, Norma, who doted over their “baby.”

“He was a loving, caring father, and Chanta was his heart,” Pulliam said of Payne. “He had three grandkids and loved them completely, too. He and my mother-in-law were totally in love. You would always see them together. Their marriage was a light to my wife and me. I am so fortunate to have married into the family.”

Norma Payne served as the receptionist in the office of former Pine Bluff mayor Carolyn Robinson in the 1980s. Robinson said Monday that she can recall being impressed by the Paynes.

“Norma is a wonderful person, and Mack was so personable, easygoing and easy to like,” Robinson said. “He had a great personality and was always interested in what others thought. That’s a winning combination. He was an exceptional individual, and I liked him immediately.”

Robinson said she had been sick lately and couldn’t attend Payne’s funeral, but sent her condolences to Norma Payne and the rest of his family.

“He’s going to be missed so very much,” Robinson said. “I know it’s going to be hard for Norma and Chanta without him.”

Mack Payne was a standout baseball and basketball player who was drafted out of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in the ninth round of the June 1970 amateur baseball draft by the American League’s Kansas City Royals. In three seasons of minor league play — two with Class A Waterloo, Iowa, and the other with rookie outfit Billings, Mon. — the pitcher recorded a 2-6 record before yielding to a nagging shoulder injury. Years later, he would discover his shoulder problem was related to a bad tooth that had produced some nerve damage.

Payne returned to Pine Bluff and eventually joined the city’s parks and recreation department, where he worked nearly 20 years. He served as the agency’s athletic director much of his time there, playing softball in the process. But he wound up managing the Merrill Community Center after his grandmother — who had helped raise him — became ill. Payne would travel to her Leland, Miss., home to tend to her on weekends.

“We were trusted friends,” said James Carter Watts, who retired as the parks and recreation department’s maintenance supervisor after 29 years in 2009. “I remember he had a great sense of humor. We could crack each other up, and that made our work so much more fun.

“He was always nice to me,” Watts continued. “When I had a heart attack in 2004, he came to visit me in the hospital. And when my mother died in 2005, he came to see me at my house. I respected that.”

Watts, also a pitcher, and Payne became softball teammates with Payne playing infield.

“He was a huge man physically, big enough to scare someone if they didn’t know him,” Watts laughed. “But I was never afraid of him. We would catch up with each other now and then after we weren’t working together anymore and I always enjoyed it when we could talk and hang out together.

“He would quote the Bible a lot, and that’s the way he dealt with others — in a Christian way,” Watts concluded. “To me, that was what made him such a big man. He was always ready and willing to reach out to anyone who needed a hand.”