I just heard that Dr. Hank Payne died yesterday. Our city has lost a true treasure.
Hank was a remarkable man … humble, brilliant, inspiring, self-effacing and an excellent golfer. He was a devoted family man, proud of his wife, Deborah and two sons. As president of Woodward Academy since 2000, Hank brought extraordinary experience to one of the oldest academic institutions in the metro area. His previous experience as president of Hamilton and Williams colleges was exactly was Woodward was looking for when it embarked on a $100 million expansion.
Hank not only helped raise funding dramatically, he raised the standing and stature of Woodward throughout the community. He also challenged the College Park school to build new buildings sustainably … with the environment foremost in mind. Woodward hired our client, Perkins+Will, the leading sustainable architecture firm in the world, to design buildings on its campus that saved energy and water usage, employed recycled materials, planted native vegetation and took advantage of the sun’s radiant energy. Some of Woodward’s buildings were constructed by another client, SG Contracting.
I first met Hank when my buddy, Tom Murphy of Murphy’s Restaurant was selected to introduce Hank to his fellow classmates in Leadership Midtown. Tom was not only fearful of giving speeches, he was intimidated by Hank’s intellect and record. He asked me to help with his speech. The next day I called Tom with an idea he couldn’t refuse: “What if you just stood up in front of Leadership Midtown and pressed the Play button on a DVD player and sat down?” I asked. “Sold!” Tom said – and thus began Schroder PR’s new venture into video work. I called my friend Larry Matré and together we produced a short video featuring Tom and Hank, poking a little fun at both.
The video, and the bloopers, were a hit, bringing down the house at Leadership Midtown. You can view the video on our website (just scroll down to the bottom of the video page). I later invited Hank to speak at the Inquiry Club, a group begun by Ralph McGill, one of my childhood heroes. I asked Hank, a northerner, historian and insightful analyst of Atlanta’s strengths and weaknesses, to speak about the growth of Atlanta and to critique its development. It was a fascinating evening, with Hank describing how downtown Atlanta was originally built on a grid to serve its railway-hub origins and how we’ve had trouble meeting our urban-planning and growth needs ever since. Hank walked in the room to speak to the Inquiry Club, looked around, noticed video equipment set up and said, “You’re not showing the video again, are you?” “Well, Hank,” I said. “I wanted to introduce you in the most clever way I could!” He was a great sport, again.
Hank was kind enough to invite me to play golf a few times with him at Ansley Golf Club’s Settindown Creek course, an old-style “links” course with very challenging roughs. In the roughs were where I spent a good part of my days with Hank, while he smoothly glided down the middle of the fairways on his way to the speedy greens and another birdie or par. As we played, he talked his stewardship of Woodward, dealing with donors, challenging his faculty and staff, or soothing parents whose kids might have to be expelled for disciplinary reasons.
Recently, Tom Murphy and I were having dinner in Virginia-Highland, when Hank and Deborah walked through the restaurant. They stopped at our table and talked for a long while, and we all giggled as Hank told a few of his many, funny stories.
Atlanta was richer for Woodward having brought Hank to town. We’ll be a bit poorer for his leaving us, way too early. The term is often used loosely these days, but Hank Payne was truly one of the finest examples I ever knew of “a gentleman and a scholar.” I’ll miss him and so will Atlanta.
Photo: Hank Payne, scholar and gentleman.