Osborne A. Payne, a former educator who became a trailblazing Baltimore businessman, entrepreneur and philanthropist, died Tuesday of Alzheimer's disease at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Columbia.
He was 87.
"He was one of Baltimore's great unsung heroes," former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who is now a Howard University administrator, said Thursday. "I knew him as a businessman and a promoter of small-business development in the city and in city government. He was a real pioneer in economic development."
"Osborne was kind, generous and a leader. We were fellow churchmen for about 30 years, and while he was a downtown businessman, I was working at Price Waterhouse," said Tom Brandt.
"So, we were both business and church friends — we ushered together for 20 years — and he helped St. John's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City become an important part of the community," said Mr. Brandt. "Everything about the man was admirable, and I treasured our friendship."
Osborne Allen Payne was born in Bedford, Va., to a cabdriver and a homemaker. In 1927, he moved with his family to Roanoke, Va., when his father landed a job "de-roaching" passenger and dining cars for the Norfolk & Western Railway.
In a 1989 profile in The Sunday Sun Magazine, Mr. Payne said his father's two-week paychecks never amounted to $50 before the 1950s.
"My mother was an excellent budgeter," he said. "It was a house full of love, but no money. We had so much love, we didn't even know we were poor."
Ambitious even as a youth, Mr. Payne's first job when he was 12 was mopping the floor of a Roanoke barbershop paid 25 cents, which he said was a good wage during the Depression. The salary grew to a dollar a week after he began lighting the morning fire and sweeping the floor.
Then he opened a shoeshine stand and after graduating from Addison High School in 1943, he learned sheet-metal work at what is now Virginia State University in Petersburg. He then enlisted in the Navy, where he was an aviation metalsmith.
Discharged in 1946, Mr. Payne entered Virginia Union University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1950 in history, and five years later, a master's degree in educational administration from Virginia State.
He began his career in 1950 as an elementary school teacher in Virginia's Chesterfield and Henrico counties, and in 1957 moved to Richmond when he took a teaching position at West End Elementary School.
Mr. Payne was later promoted to principal of Mary Scott Elementary School, and he was principal of Whitcomb Elementary School until 1962, when he took a job as an educational adviser with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Liberia, where he oversaw school construction.
He returned to Virginia in 1965 to help Roanoke Valley organize Total Action Against Poverty, its first anti-poverty program. As the agency's educational director, he helped establish 10 day-care centers in the Roanoke area.
In 1967, Mr. Payne took a job with the National Education Association as director of NEA-SEARCH, whose mission was locating available positions for teachers, principally those displaced by desegregation.
While working for the NEA, a colleague told him about her husband's plans to purchase an airplane so he could commute daily from his Washington home to his new job in Philadelphia.
"Wow, what kind of business pays that kind of money?" he asked.
"McDonald's," she replied.
"You've got to be joking," said a somewhat nonplused Mr. Payne.
The exchange aroused Mr. Payne's curiosity, so he ordered a franchise packet from McDonald's and some 30 other companies. His first pick was Holiday Inn, but he didn't have the $250,000 franchise fee, so he turned to his second choice, McDonald's.
"They were only asking for $50,000," he said in the 1989 profile. "Naturally, I had to go with the cheaper."
While training in the evening and weekends with McDonald's from 1972 to 1973 and still working full time with the NEA, Mr. Payne also studied business administration and marketing at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Mr. Payne, who was best known for bringing McDonald's restaurants to inner-city Baltimore, opened his first McDonald's on Broadway between North Avenue and Harford Road, on a lot that had once been home to a Chevrolet dealership, on May 30, 1974.
When he opened the store at 5 p.m., there was a line of customers a block and a half long that stretched down Harford Road. By the time the cash register stopped ringing at midnight, he had made $1,350 in sales.
Mr. Payne's corporate entity was Broadway-Payne, with its founder serving as owner and CEO. During the next two decades, he added McDonald's restaurants at North Avenue and Charles Street, Franklin Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, Greenmount Avenue and 28th Street, Eutaw Street and on Liberty Road in Baltimore County.
Mr. Payne was the first African-American to win the prestigious Golden Arch Award in 1978 for running outstanding stores and business excellence. He also served as president of the Black McDonald's Owner-Operator Association.
He also mentored many others who became successful franchise owners, such as Cathy Bell of Columbia and the late Harlow Fullwood.
In a 1987 article in The Evening Sun, Mr. Payne said that he hired 98 percent of his employees locally, and that then-Mayor Clarence H. Du Burns "used to brag about the number of people he knew in East Baltimore who were being put through college due to working at our store on Broadway."
"We tried to come up with a number, and I think it was 10,000 young people who have gone through our organization while they were in high school and several thousand who continued through college," he said.
Sina M. Reid first met Mr. Payne at NEA and then shortly after he opened his first restaurant, went to work for him in personnel and training. When she left the company, she was executive vice president.
"Osborne was successful because of three things. He had great personal charm and charisma, and people liked him," said Mrs. Reid. "He had a commitment to excellence and wanted things done right. He was interested in and committed to youth. He inspired young people and gave them a chance.
Mrs. Reid added that he had "very high operating standards and was diligent about finances."
While his business made him into a millionaire, Mr. Payne was far from being an elusive owner sitting in an office.
He remained an on-site presence and hands-on-owner, and often pitched in to help his workers when a store got busy. He told The Sun Magazine that his favorite job was operating the fryolator and pulling up baskets of french fries.
Arnold Williams was a longtime friend, as well as Mr. Payne's accountant and business consultant.
"He was always very business-astute and was always an educator," said Mr. Williams. "He had very sound principles and was a very ethical gentleman. He was a leader and always willing to mentor someone so they could get to the next level."
Mr. Payne owned and operated a second business, Baltimore Specialty Tours, that offered boat and limousine services.
He retired in 1999.
Mr. Payne, a former Baltimore resident who later moved to Columbia, was the founding chairman of Associated Black Charities and a founding member of the President's Roundtable, which is made up of African-American business leaders, and was a founding director of Columbia Bank, now Fulton Financial.
He served on many boards, including those of the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the American Red Cross, Signal 13 Foundation of the Baltimore City Police Department, Ronald McDonald House and Baltimore Museum of Art.
He is featured in the Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore.
He was a communicant for 35 years of St. John's Episcopal Church, where he had been a member of its vestry, and was the first African-American to serve as senior warden.
Plans for a memorial service to be held at his church were incomplete Thursday.
Surviving are his wife of 51 years, the former Famebridge Cunningham; two daughters, Sarita Payne of Columbia and Famebridge S. Witherspoon of Lawrence, Mass.; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. An earlier marriage to the former Sylvia Coles ended in divorce.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun