By Rick Cleveland
JACKSON – Sunday was Mother’s Day, and what follows concerns a Hall of Fame mother, surely one of the most warm, loving, caring mothers who ever graced this planet. If mothers wore jerseys, Alyne Payton’s number would long ago have been retired.
The world knows Alyne Payton as football legend Walter Payton’s mother, but the world knows only a smidgen of her motherliness. Eddie and Pam Payton know far more. They were Mrs. Payton’s other two blood children.
Mrs. Payton died last week at the age of 87. She leaves behind not only Eddie and Pam, and their children, but so many other children she nursed and fed and changed their diapers and bathed and taught and disciplined and loved.
Mostly, Alyne Payton loved.
The first words should come from Eddie, her oldest, a former star football player himself and the longtime highly successful golf coach at Jackson State.
“I had 61 years on this earth with Mama,” Eddie said. “I can tell you that every minute of time I had with her was quality time. She was simply the best.”
Now Pam, a year younger than Eddie and two years older than Walter: “My mama was the toughest person I’ve ever known. She’s had one surgery after another after another. Her doctors said she should have been gone last September. She just had such a spirit about her.”
Alyne Payton endured the early deaths of her husband, Edward, to a aneurysm in 1978, and Walter, to a rare liver disease in 1999. Through it all, she carried herself with rare grace and dignity.
And you wondered where Walter, the greatest football player these eyes ever saw, got his toughness, his spirit, his durability? Now you know.
But there’s so much more to learn about Alyne Payton.
Meet Mrs. Gloria Walker, who was married to the late Bill Walker, founder of Bill’s Dollar Stores. The original Bill’s was in Columbia. Gloria married Bill Walker in 1965.
“That’s when I met Alyne Payton,” Gloria Walker said. “I don’t know how long she had been working for the Walker family then, but she’s been an integral part of my life ever since.
“I lost my mother when I was 15, and Alyne Payton became like a second mother to me,” Gloria Walker continued. “She raised my three children. She has helped raise 10 of my grandchildren. ”
And what made Alyne Payton so special?
“My only answer is that you’re born like that,” Gloria Walker answered. “She was an incredibly strong Christian and that’s part of it, but you have to be born with the qualities she had. She grew up dirt poor. She learned to cook when she was 8 years old because she was told she could either pick cotton or she could learn to cook. So she learned to cook, and she taught herself and, as a cook, she was unsurpassed.”
Motherhood, the kind Alyne Payton provided, requires so much more than cooking. …
“Alyne was instinctively wise,” Gloria Walker said. “When I had trouble with my children, she knew just what to do, how to discipline, when to discipline. And she was incredible with babies. She just loved babies.”
‘the baby saved me’
When Walter Payton died in 1999, it was only days before the birth of Katie Walker, one of Gloria Walker’s granddaughters.
“Alyne said Katie Walker is what got her through the grieving process,” Gloria Walker said. “She focused her love on Katie. She told me, ‘That baby saved me. I don’t know what I would have done without that baby. She got me through.’”
You probably have guessed by now that Gloria Walker was much more than an employer to Alyne Payton. And Alyne Payton was much more than “the help” to Gloria Walker. They were even more than best friends.
Says Mrs. Walker, “She was my soulmate. She had enough money she could have retired years and years and years ago, but her work ethic was unbelievable and she loved her work. She loved to work with children.
“She loved to laugh. Oh, we had so much fun together.”
Despite all her contributions to others, Mrs. Alyne Payton will go down in the history books as Walter Payton’s mother. She would not mind that.
“Walter was her baby,” Eddie said.
But for the past 13 years, Mrs. Payton had fretted about the fact that Walter had been cremated.
Said Pam Payton, “That’s why I’ve always kept Walter’s ashes at my house. Mama didn’t like that he was cremated. She didn’t like that he didn’t have a final resting place.”
That changed Saturday when Alyne Payton was buried in Columbia, beside her late husband’s grave, and with her baby Walter’s ashes cradled in her arm.
Rick Cleveland (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.