For a generation of readers, Weldon Payne’s name is synonymous with the Manchester Times . Payne was hired as editor of the Times on Nov. 1, 1962, following his time as an Associated Press writer. He would later return as publisher in 1976, before taking a job at UTSI and spend many of his retirement years continuing his column, “Through the Pane.” He now spends his days at his Manchester home with his wife, Barbara.
In a way, the Manchester Times archives offer a biography of the artist-writer threaded through its pages.
Payne recalls in a Dec. 1999 story his first days on the job. Manchester, Payne describes, in the sixties, was a much less welcoming community to outsiders.
He described the community that first winter as being cold, and not just the weather. (Back then it still snowed and 1962 was a white Christmas.) Payne writes that he vowed, sitting in a Powers Shopping Center laundromat to win the hearts of the people of Manchester.
It’s a safe bet to say that he succeeded in that goal.
Another story on Payne from spring of 1995 recounts Payne’s time before coming to the Times. Payne was born in Texas during the Great Depression. His parents packed their belongings and five children into an old Model T converted into a truck and moved to Alabama. Payne aspired to write even before he graduated from the high school in Apex, Ala.
Payne’s experiences as editor for the local high school carried over to his Naval Reserve days when he started a shipboard paper The Daly News aboard the USS Daly.
The bicentennial edition July 8, 1976 reports Payne’s return as publisher.
“My objective as publisher is the same as when I moved to Coffee County on Halloween in 1962 -- to help publish a good newspaper. It’s a challenge which I look forward to sharing with Mr. (Latham) Davis (Editor) and his staff,” Payne wrote.
As a journalist, Payne worked hard, as did all reporters before the internet databases offered the wealth of human knowledge just a click away.
“Hours were long in those days,” Payne recalls in one of his stories. “City School Board met on the first Monday night each month… the Mayor and Alderman met twice a month on Tuesdays...in a dinky city hall at the intersection of Highway 41 and Spring Street.”
Elections were posted in the Times windows on blackboards and the square would be flooded with people awaiting the results.
“It literally took all night to get the results,” Payne recalled. “As I recall the last results often came from Hoo Doo, probably the smallest precinct in the county.”
Payne wrote that some poll workers who forgot to call in their numbers would be phone at home for results.
Among other roles held throughout his long career was his time at UTSI as public relations coordinator which he held from 1989 until his retirement from there in 1995. Payne regularly submitted articles to the Times during his time as the space institute, and most likely holds the record for longest running column, which ran over five decades.
The last “Through the Pane” to run in the Times was April 18, 2018. In “Didn’t Know this was America” Payne reflects poetically on the sights and smells of growing up in the South.
“It was hard enough to find out who I was because I didn’t like to hoe corn or to plow or pick cotton…. Now it is time to ring bells for America and 10 million words are being spilled every hour…. Perhaps none of us knows exactly what America is except we found it ourselves . I found it a long time ago when light lay soft against a crib floor and new dirt curled behind my shiny plow,” he writes.
Payne now spends his days quietly working in the yard and helping with housework, yet the words he wrote live on in an electronic archive, a digital biography -- ones and zeros that live on in a way that he could have never fathomed when he moved to Manchester.