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Longtime mayor passes away

By Michael Butler

Bobby Payne was known for his flamboyant personality and even some flamboyant outfits. Tallassee's longest-running former mayor passed away on Saturday, Jan. 8. He was 76.

Payne served on the Tallassee City Council from 1976-88. He topped incumbent mayor Thomas Pollard in the '88 mayor's race and served five straight terms through 2008.

In the 2008 mayoral race, Payne was defeated by George McCain after a 20-year run at the position. He came back to win the rematch in 2012, in what would become his final term.

Payne served as president of the Alabama League of Municipalities from 1996-97. He also held roles as chairman of the Southern Municipal Conference, Alabama Municipal Insurance Corporation and Central Alabama Regional Planning Commission.

Payne (No. 25) to the right of former Tallassee star Mack Bell on Shug Jordan's '65 squad

In all, Payne served 36 years in public office in Tallassee, 24 as mayor. His bid for state representative came up short in 2006. Barry Mask defeated Payne for the House District 31 seat, vacated by the passing of Tallassee resident Jack Venable.

Payne was born in Gadsden. At Etowah High School, he was nicknamed the "Etowah Flash," earning first-team all-state honors during his senior season in 1963.

His talents on the field led to a scholarship offer from Auburn University, where Payne lettered and received the SEC Halfback of the Year Award during his freshman season.

Payne moved to Tallassee in 1968 after being hired by Mount Vernon Mills. It was there where he met Charles Blalock on his first day on the job. The pair's friendship continued for more than five decades.

"We hit it off from day one," Blalock said. "I'm going to miss him as a personal friend of mine."

Portrait of Payne by the Alabama League of Municipalities during his term as president

Blalock came aboard the city council in 1987 reuniting with Payne. Blalock became the city's first African-American council member.

"He was very instrumental in my being appointed to the council," Blalock continued. "I don't really like to get into color, but you know what an impact Bobby had on the black community here in the city. He would come to the Jordanville area, Log Circle, wherever and sit on the doorsteps of a lot of our senior citizens.

"At Christmas time he would bring the fruit baskets. It wasn't so much the gift but the idea of being thought about. As we get older, we tend to have the feeling that we're being pushed to the side or forgotten about. But, when somebody comes by and spends just a little time and makes us feel that we're still somebody, it makes us feel good.

"He really added something to City Hall in those 36 years. He and I served for a combined 65 years together. I'm appealing to the city, to the mayor's office and to the council that they declare a day of mourning and lower our flags to half staff because there's nobody that I know in my lifetime who has served and given as much time as Robert Bobby Payne."

Like Payne, Blalock's last year in public office was 2016. In 2020, the city recognized the former mayor with the unveiling of the new Payne Park located across from East Tallassee Baptist Church.

Payne and Blalock were honored for their service with a retirement reception in 2016

Payne worked in the automotive business in Tallassee after his stint with the mill. He and Ronnie Baynes co-owned Town and Country Motors in the 1980s. Payne also served as president of the Tallassee Rotary Club.

He was an avid supporter of Tallassee High School sports - especially at THS football games where he was regularly spotted sporting a blazer and trousers in the school colors of purple and gold.

"Robert E. "Bobby" Payne was a treasured and respected friend for 26 years," Tallassee historian Bill Goss said. "I met Bobby in December 1995, when I returned to Tallassee, my hometown, to live out my retirement years. He had already served as Tallassee’s mayor for seven years.

"We had great respect for each other. I admired his accomplishments/achievements as mayor and his love and concern for his adopted hometown of Tallassee. He asked me to serve on the 2008 Tallassee Centennial Committee and I learned to appreciate him more. After the Tallassee Falls Museum opened in June 2015, Bobby would visit it almost weekly. He and I shared many thoughts and ideas. I will cherish those memories."

Payne and his wife Mary Carroll were married for 53 years.

Services will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 12 at 1 p.m. at Jeffcoat Funeral Home Chapel. The family will receive friends from 12 p.m. until service time. A private burial will be at a later time at Rose Hill Cemetery.

Payne Obituary