In Memory of Willie Payne

In Memory of Willie Payne – Please share your memories and appreciation for Willie Payne

Willie Lee Payne Jr.

October 25, 1947 – August 3, 2020

When Willie Payne passed away in August, it was another gut punch to the smooth jazz community, which has suffered through the COVID-19 pandemic without their lifeline of live music, travel and fellowship with jazz friends. Now, one of the most generous sponsors and supporters of the genre is gone.

However, Willie was a positive person, and rather than mourn his loss with sadness, he’d probably prefer that we celebrate the fun times we had with him. So, to append to the tribute we published in the September-October digital edition of Smooth Jazz News  we’re adding this space for more of his friends and colleagues to share their memories and appreciation for the beloved the founder of Payne Pest Management, who was also a husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, uncle, brother and mentor.

RIP Willie Payne, you are truly missed …

We hope you’ll also enjoy the gallery of snapshots from Willie’s life.

Memories & Appreciation for Willie Lee Payne Jr.

“Christmas was always a big family time at our house, and my dad spoiled us like no other. When I started having my own kids, it was even better. My dad would come over every Christmas morning and watch my kids open their presents and have breakfast with them, and then we would go to his house and open more presents and have a big family dinner. He would ask my daughter, Niyla, ‘What will papa get you?’ And, by age 3, he taught her to say ‘Anything I want.’”  – Angela Seward, Willie Payne’s daughter

“We are still grieving the loss of Willie Payne, and can’t believe he’s gone. I’m sure you’re feeling the same way. I remember when we met Willie and Kathy. They wanted to be closer to the band and our group had a seat that we could share. We got to know them better and he shared info about other events he felt we would be interested in. They celebrated my husband Dan’s 65th birthday with us. We have been together at The San Diego Jazz Festival, Brian Culbertson’s Napa Valley Jazz Getaway and Dave Koz cruises, plus our trips to the wineries in Napa. Willie introduced us to several wineries but the most awesome experience was at Chappellet. It was an amazing experience, and one that we continue to visit and will do this always in his memory. His laughter was contagious. He called us his ‘North Carolina connection,’ and we will never forget how well he took care of us when we were at any of the events. We admired how genuinely passionate he was about music, and would do anything for his friends. We will miss his presence at any future events. He appointed himself to be the person to check on everyone … to be sure they had what they needed and that they were having a good time. Willie lived life to the fullest and wanted everyone around him to do the same.  He will forever be in our hearts.  RIP our friend!” – Connie Vestal (part of Willie’s “North Carolina connection”)

“Several years ago, my brother Jerry Davis, and sister-in-law Mitzi Davis, talked us into going on a Dave Koz Jazz Cruise. We were jazz newbies but quickly fell in love with jazz music. Brian Culbertson was on the cruise and we heard about his Jazz Getaway in Napa. We all vowed to try to go. The next year we found out when the tickets went on sale. Unfortunately, the date tickets went on sale was while Jerry and Mitzi were on another jazz cruise. So, I was designated to get online the minute tickets went on sale and try to get six tickets. I was all set with two computers and everyone’s information the minute tickets went on sale, when I got a call from Mitzi. She said they had partied the evening before with this wonderful couple named Willie and Kathy Payne. They told him that we were trying to get tickets to the Jazz Getaway, and that I was all set to try to get the tickets. Willie said he might be able to help us. Brian was on the cruise and Willie worked with him to get tickets for all of us, including me and my husband. Willie paid for our tickets even though we had never met. When I corresponded with Kathy to send her payment for our tickets we commented that sometimes God puts people in your path at the right time. We later met Willie and Kathy at Brian’s Jazz Getaway and quickly became friends. We knew as soon as Willie walked in the hotel that the party had started. We spent the week sharing his passion for jazz and wine. It was one of our best trips ever, and Willie made it happen. We quickly became part of Willie’s “North Carolina connection.” We shared two of Brian’s Jazz Getaways and attended two of The San Diego Jazz Festivals with Willie and Kathy. They included us in some group dinners at the festival and invited us to their suite for after-parties. Willie was just a natural host. He made everyone feel welcome, and wanted to make sure you had a good time. Mitzi and I were also lucky enough to be included in his surprise 70th birthday cruise to Mexico. It was his birthday party, but he jumped in to make sure his family and friends had a good time. He even arranged a bus tour to a water spout for us. Willie and Kathy also visited North Carolina to help us celebrate Dan Vestal’s birthday. My favorite memory of Willie is when he spotted Mitzi and I on the dock before we left to go on his birthday cruise. His expression was priceless. It just hit him that this might be more than a weekend getaway with family. The package from North Carolina that Kathy had been checking on had arrived.”  – Darlene Reinhardt (part of Willie’s “North Carolina connection”)

“We met Kathy and Willie Payne when they attended a birthday party in North Carolina for Dan Vestal. Then we started going on cruises, vacations and The San Diego Smooth Jazz Festival with them. But we also enjoy their family activities. My favorite memory of Willie is how he taught us to “Party Willie Payne Style.” We admired how Willie “worked to play,” and how he was able to separate the two and enjoy life. We are going to miss making more memories with him. We had so many planned in the future that he made possible. And, I would like to say thank you for my birthday present, Willie & Kathy!” – Joy Kay (part of Willie’s “North Carolina connection”)

Please feel free to share your memories and appreciation for Willie Payne in the comment box below.

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