Mrs. Alyne Payton, whose most famous son, Walter, was nicknamed Sweetness and who embodied that noun herself, died late Monday night after a long illness. She was 87.
Mrs Payton endured the early deaths of husband to an aneurysm in 1978 and Walter (to liver disease) in 1999. Through it all, she carried herself with grace and dignity. She was known for her kindness, her faith and for her remarkable, downhome cooking skills.
Funeral arrangements are incomplete.
The first time I ever heard of Mrs. Payton was when I was writing sports as a teen-ager for the Hattiesburg American and Mrs. Eva B. Beets, our elderly Columbia correspondent, would call in the football scores on Friday night. She loved to describe the exploits of “that Payton boy” who would become one of the greatest, most admired athletes in American history.
“He’s a good boy, too” Mrs. Beets would remind me after she told of his four or five touchdown runs on any given night. “He’s Miss Alyne’s boy. Everybody in Columbia knows Miss Alyne.”
Miss Alyne was actually Mrs. Edward Payton. They were the parents of Eddie, Walter and Pam Payton. The father worked in a factory. The mother often worked two or three jobs at a time. From all accounts, Alyne Payton was a loving, but strict mother. She was a devout Baptist who insisted on good grades and good manners.
I first met her in person in 1976, Walter’s second season with the Chicago Bears. This was December and Walter was running neck-and-neck with O.J. Simpson for the NFL rushing title. Bud Holmes, Walter’s Hattiesburg-based agent, invited me to fly along with Mrs. Payton and him on his Lear jet to watch the Bears play the Denver Broncos.
In retrospect, I don’t know who was more scared on that jet ride: Mrs. Payton or me. I do know we held hands when we were about to land at icy Lakefront Airport. The game? Walter, playing on a bad ankle, scored an early touchdown and the Bears led 14-0, but Denver dominated the second half. There was nowhere for Walter to run. Denver, quarterbacked by Norris Weese, won 28-14 and O.J. won the rushing title by more than 100 yards. And here’s what I remember about that. Walter was disconsolate afterward, his mother warmly consoling him much like she probably did when he was three years old and had skinned his knee. She did admonish him to keep his chin up.
You should know that Mrs. Payton was Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum board member in the early days of the Hall of Fame. Long-time board member Bill Hetrick, a Metro Jackson area realtor, remembers her contributions.
“To be the mother of such a famous athlete and icon, she was so down to earth,” Hetrick said. “I remember a really kind woman who took the job seriously and was always thinking about the future, not just what was going on at the time. She understood that as Walter and Eddie’s mother she needed to be part of the process.
“She didn’t have a lot to say, but when she did offer her opinion on something, everybody listened.”
Mrs. Payton, a Jackson resident, remained a strong Jackson State fan through the years. I would often see her at JSU games. I last saw when she and Pam visited the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum last fall. Then, we made plans to do an extended video interview about her raising a family, including one of the world’s most famous athletes, in Columbia at a the cusp of integration of Mississippi schools.
She went into the hospital shortly after that and we never got it done. It is our loss because Mrs. Alyne Payton surely had a story to tell.