Duke Ellington School of the Arts is having a very rough year. First off the school building is under going a major renovation, and the school is now operating in a swing space downtown. But even more traumatic than the move, principal, John Payne, died suddenly on October 9th. We knew Father Payne as the prefect of discipline while my son was going to Ellington, and we got to meet him early on while Kit was still at Hardy Middle School. (I think he was in sixth grade the day he and a friend decided it'd be fun to light a pumpkin on fire in a trash can at their bus stop - right near the big green chair.) That was before we even knew Kit would end up at high school there.
Kit who is now 21 writes:
"Sometimes you can't help taking people for granted, without realizing it. Father Payne is one of those people that I took for granted because he was such strong force in my life I never even considered that one day he would not be there. Whether I was in trouble or he was simply reaching out, John Payne was always there for me and had my best interests at heart, and I was in trouble a lot. He will be missed by everyone that had the pleasure of knowing him, and I can not think of a single word that can describe the hole he leaves behind in this world. He was the type of person whose spirit words can not capture. i will always remember him and be thankful for every day I knew him."
Father Payne had a huge impact on our community. I mentioned him in a piece I wrote last year as being a local hero, and then yesterday saw a posting by my good friend Bobby Lee Birdsong echoing that very sentiment. Bobby was writing about tuning a piano at the National Shrine for Father Payne's mass today:
"I had a rather reverberant early Sunday eve just now, tuning a Steinway L grand piano at the National Shrine, empty of all but a few visitors. Sadly, this is for a funeral mass to be held tomorrow morning for Father John Payne, the beloved principal of Duke Ellington School of the Arts, who died unexpectedly last week at age 53, and who dedicated his life to God (a priest in the Augustinian Order), and to arts education. A truly awesome individual who bettered the lives and souls of thousands of DC art kids, and a true local hero. RIP Father Payne."
(In lieu of flowers, gifts may be sent to the Ellington Fund, 2001 10th St., NW, Washington, DC 20001 or online at http://www.ellingtonschool.org/ellington-fund/donate-now/, indicate gift in memory of Father Payne)