Osborne Allen Payne, a Baltimore businessman who left a distinguished career in education to become a leading restaurateur, entrepreneur and philanthropist, died Nov. 27, at Gilchrist Center Howard County in Columbia, Md. of complications of Alzheimer’s disease. The longtime Columbia and Baltimore resident was 87.
Mr. Payne was a founder of Associated Black Charities and the Presidents’ Roundtable business group, but he was perhaps best known for bringing McDonald’s restaurants into Baltimore City and being in the vanguard of entrepreneurs who helped make the eatery an urban staple nationwide.
He was the first president of the Black McDonald’s Owner-Operators Association (BMOA) and mentored many successful franchise owners, including Cathy Bell of Columbia and the late Harlow Fullwood, who ran several KFC stores in Baltimore. Mr. Payne and Mr. Fullwood were enshrined as ground breaking entrepreneurs in the Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore in 2001.
Mr. Payne was the first African-American to win McDonald’s prestigious Golden Arch Award, for running outstanding stores. It was one of numerous professional and community awards and honors – including many from the city of Baltimore and state of Maryland – that underscored the life of the active public servant.
He was born in Bedford, Va. on May 26, 1925, the only child of Georgia and Emmanuel Payne. He often shared stories about this father, a porter for the Norfolk and Western Railroad and his mother, a teacher. The impact of a strong work ethic and family values modeled by his parents were reflected in his life.
He was reared in Roanoke and graduated from Addison High School in 1943. He entered the U.S. Navy, stationed at Norfolk Air Force Base and was discharged in 1946 as a 3rd Class Aviation medalsmith. The Navy may well have been the springboard for his love of boating; and he later kept a vessel on Baltimore Harbor.
Having served in the military, Mr. Payne used the GI Bill to enroll at Virginia Union University. While there in 1948, he married Sylvia Coles. A daughter, the late Andrea Kyles, was born in 1952.
In 1950, Mr. Payne received a bachelor of arts degree in history from Virginia Union; and in 1955, he earned a master of science degree in education administration from Virginia State University. Mr. Payne also took additional courses in education administration at the University of Virginia.
He started his professional career in 1950 as an elementary school teacher in Virginia’s Chesterfield and Henrico counties. In 1957, he moved to Richmond, where he taught at West End Elementary School and was ultimately named principal of Mary Scott Elementary School. He later served as principal of Richmond’s Whitcomb Court Elementary School until 1962. There, he pioneered team-teaching and other advanced instructional techniques that proved to be foundational for his work with the National Educational Association (NEA) in Washington, D.C.
In 1960, he met the former Famebridge Cunningham, then an elementary school teacher in Richmond, at an education conference in New York. He surrendered his seat to her on a crowded conference bus, and they began a romance that led to their wedding on March 18, 1961. Their daughter Famebridge Sannequille was born the following year.
Education was very important to him, and through it, he made some of his most significant life connections. Such a link came during an educational workshop in Ohio shortly after he and Fambridge were married, when Payne learned of a position as educational advisor in West Africa for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). With this wife and newborn, Mr. Payne accepted an assignment in Liberia, overseeing the building of 20 schools, from 1962-63, the year his daughter Sarita Sinyea was born in Liberia.
After the school-construction project ended, he served from 1963-65 as acting Dean of Instruction for Cuttington College, an Episcopal liberal arts school in Liberia, which in 1986 awarded him an honorary doctorate in International Relations.
He returned to Virginia in 1965 and helped Roanoke Valley organize its first anti-poverty program, Total Action Against Poverty (TAP). He ultimately became TAP’s educational director and helped establish 10 day-care centers in Roanoke and vicinity.
In 1967, he accepted a job with the National Education Association (NEA) as director of NEA-SEARCH, with the mission of locating available positions for teachers; principally for those displaced by desegregation. Later, he became a field coordinator, working with principals and conducting seminars nationwide.
While attending a principal’s convention in Miami, he made another important connection, in a chance meeting with a McDonald’s owner-operator. That sparked his entrepreneurial fires.
After learning about the expanding McDonald’s restaurant business, he applied for a McDonald’s license and was accepted. From 1972-73, he trained in the evenings and on weekends with the McDonald’s Corp., while continuing to work full time with the NEA. In 1973, he completed 30 hours of course work in business administration and marketing at the University of Maryland, College Park. After commuting from Washington to Roanoke for a time, the family settled in Silver Spring, Md.
In 1974, the corporate entity of Broadway-Payne with Osborne Payne as its CEO opened its first McDonald’s doors on Broadway, between North Avenue and Harford Road, in east Baltimore. The eatery was so successful, he spent the next two decades opening, owing and operating McDonald’s franchises throughout the city, including at North Avenue and Charles Street, Franklin Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, and Greenmount Avenue and 28th Street and on Liberty Road in Baltimore County. He also ran a McDonald’s Corp store on Eutaw Street in downtown Baltimore for two years.
During his tenure as a McDonald’s owner-operator, he was acknowledged for the training and employment of Baltimore City youth. He understood the importance of active community engagement and often contributed to local community efforts. He was honored by Project Survival – one of many social causes to which he contributed in 1985.
Mr. Payne was an active member of the Black McDonald’s Operators Association, which provided camaraderie and support to its members. His commitment to the quality standards for food, service and business operations of the McDonald’s Corp. was evidenced by the chain’s many awards to him for operator excellence. McDonald’s plaques lined his walls.
The restaurant business was a launching pad for other entrepreneurial ventures. He also ran Baltimore Speciality Tours, offering boat and limousine services. He retired in 1999.
Mr. Payne’s entrepreneurial spirit and civic commitments were out matched only by his devotion to the church. Though raised in the Baptist tradition, for more than 35 years, he was a loyal member of St. Johns Episcopal Church in Ellicott City, Md., where he served on the vestry and was the church’s first African-America senior warden. He also was a long-time usher and served as the chairman of stewardship programs, helping to coordinate the church’s tithing initiatives.
He was a member of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, Gamma chapter, and a life-member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. He was named an Omega Man of the Year in 1962, and in 1979, an Omega Businessman of the Year.
He was founding chairman of Associated Black Charities, a founding member of the Presidents’ Roundtable (a group of black business leaders), and a founding director of Columbia Bank (now Fulton Financial).
He was a former member of the American Teachers Association and a life member of the National Education Association and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Governor William Donald Schaefer appointed him to the State Board of Education (later the Maryland Higher Education Commission). He completed his second five-year term under Governor Parris Glendening. He also served two terms on the Maryland State Lottery Commission.
He served on many boards, including the trustees of Virginia Union University, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the National Conference on Christians and Jews, the American Red Cross-Baltimore Chapter, Arena Players, Baltimore Museum of Art, Ronald McDonald House, Girl Scouts of Central Maryland, United Way of Central Maryland, Howard County General Hospital, Baltimore Goodwill Industries, Signal 13 Foundation of the Baltimore City Police Department, and the Campaign for Our Children.
He is survived by his wife of 51 years, Famebridge (Cunningham) of Columbia, two daughters, Famebridge S. Witherspoon, (Gary) of Lawrence, Massachusetts; and Sarita Payne of Columbia; two grandchildren, Astarte Barnett (Joshua) of Phoenix, Arizona, and Jackson Osborne Witherspoon of Lawrence, Ma.; and two great-grandchildren, Londyn and Aubri Barnett of Phoenix, Az.
He also leaves a legacy of service and strong determination until the end.