Thelma Love Payne, the fourth child of the late Melvin and Gertrude Johnson Love, was born in Statesboro, Georgia, on December 25, 1921. She was raised on a farm with seven siblings where they picked cotton and sold produce to earn a living for the family. There were so many in the Love family that they had their own school (known as the “Love School”). Because Thelma and her siblings had to work the fields to provide for their family, her educational opportunities were limited; however, it made an impact on her character. Thelma developed a strong will and determination to succeed no matter the cost. She always obtained her personal goals through creativity and resourcefulness.
In addition to working on the farm, as a young girl, Thelma began working with a local Statesboro family to perfect her cooking skills. At 19 years old, she moved to Williamsburg, Va. to join her sister Lillie Hall where she met the love of her life, the late Deacon James Lewis Payne of Tappahannock, Virginia. One of Thelma’s first goals was to join and become an active member at First Baptist Church. She dedicated a lifetime of service as a pastor’s aide under Reverend Lee and an usher under Reverend Collins. She was installed as a Deaconess in 1984 under Reverend Dr. Thomas T. Shields, Sr. and became one of the first women at First Baptist to serve wine. She also faithfully served on the Women’s Auxiliary making her famous pound cakes, sweet potato pies, and peach cobbler.
Thelma and James wed on August 17, 1942, by Reverend L.W. Wales, Jr. Born to this union were five girls Ann, Jean, Gail, Joyce, and Madeline. The couple built their life together in Williamsburg, Va. after James returned from serving four years in the Army during World War II. They made many life-long friends in the neighborhood on Clay Street in the heart of historic Colonial Williamsburg, and later in Carver Gardens.
Thelma’s hobbies included taking care of children, visiting friends and family, gardening, baking delicious desserts, preparing excellent meals, and hosting gatherings with friends and family. She was always the life of the party during holiday gatherings. She told funny stories and had such a unique personality that every family member and friend has a “Thelma or mama story” to tell that will leave you in stitches. All of her family members who attended Hampton University tell stories of Thelma’s famous brownies that were passed around the dorms.
Thelma’s love for children and cooking led her to various jobs in those areas. She began working for various prominent households in Colonial Williamsburg, Kingsmill, Fords Colony, as well as tourists visiting the Williamsburg Hospitality House. She was employed by the Tidewater Mental Clinic for ten years where she looked after the children of the patients. Thelma impacted the lives of the children she cared for and remained life-long friends with some of their families. Before retiring in 1982, she served for 25 years as a cook for the Kappa Alpha Sorority House at the College of William and Mary, feeding up to 30 students a day. Her delicious shepherd’s pie was featured in one of the college’s cookbooks.
She is the backbone of her family, always sharing a word of wisdom and a favorite food item among friends, whether it be home-grown in her backyard, home-cooked, or purchased with love. She was rich in spirit, never lacked anything, and was quick to hand someone a $20 bill for gas or food. As one of Thelma’s final assignments, in 1988, the Lord called on her once more to raise her youngest grandson, Minister Derrick Tompkins.
On November 15, 2019, Thelma departed this life at the age of 97, surrounded by her loved ones. She was predeceased by her siblings, Verleen Cooper (L.J.), Lillie Hall (Sim), Sarah Greenwood and Joe Love (Louis), all of Middletown, Ohio, Lucille Payne (Charles), and Roscoe Love, both of Williamsburg, Virginia, and Grady Love (Beatrice), of Statesboro, Georgia. She is survived by her children, Ann Tompkins, of Richmond, Virginia, Jean Williams, of Fayetteville, North Carolina, Gail Moye (Paul), of Charlotte, North Carolina, Joyce Cousar, of Wilmington, Delaware, and Madeline Payne, of Crofton, Maryland; nine grandchildren; seventeen great-grandchildren; and a host of nieces, nephews and friends.
A homegoing celebration will be held at 12:00 noon on Saturday, November 23, 2019, in First Baptist Church. Interment to follow in Cedar Grove Cemetery. Family and friends to assemble at 1518 Merrimac Trail by 11:00 a.m. on Saturday. Mrs. Payne may be viewed from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Friday in the funeral home.
Professional service entrusted to the staff of Whiting’s Funeral Home, 7005 Pocahontas Trail, Williamsburg, Virginia 23185. 757-229-3011 whitingsfuneralhome.com
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