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Payne’s death felt by his family and friends

I’m not crying ’cause I feel sorry for you, I’m crying for me. Those words belong to Toby Keith and his tribute to the late Wayman Tisdale. But they only seem apropos to those who knew Chris Payne who died last week. He was a friend of mine and many others.

Anyone who knew Chris couldn’t help but like him. If he met a stranger, it didn’t take long to win them over with his outgoing personality.

Chris used to write sports for me at The Tribune. Like me, Chris was a sports fanatic. He loved the Cincinnati Reds and Notre Dame. He liked the Bengals and I like the Browns, but we could handle that. No matter how much he liked a team, he could always appreciate another team or individual for their talent.

Besides getting to write sports, Chris and I spent a lot of time laughing and joking. Probably too much time. No one should have been allowed to have that much fun at their job.

I guess that’s why he would always say, “That’s too funny.”

But Chris made it fun for me as well as the other people who worked at The Tribune. They didn’t always get him, but they really enjoyed him.

I thought of him at Mass on Sunday when the first reading from Sirach talked about being humble. Chris loved to talk about others and sing their praises, but he was uncomfortable when someone spoke well of him. He was a master of self-deprecating humor, but he didn’t deserve it.

If someone ever did something for Chris, he was genuinely appreciative. He would thank them repeatedly even if it was something very simple.

However, when it came to talking about others, Chris loved to talk about his family. He really loved his family and relatives, especially his late mother, Mary. I probably know more about his family and relatives than they do.

It was funny to sit and listen to him and his mother “argue” back and forth on the telephone. He would hang up the receiver and in an exasperated voice say, “That crazy Lebanese woman.”

But he would do anything for her. He was so concerned about her health and would rush to help her at the first word that she didn’t feel well.

I talked to Chris about writing sports again for the Tribune once he recovered from his heart attack. But another attack proved too much and he was gone too young at 47.

We were talking last week at the hospital and I knew he was having trouble remembering different things, something that is initially common with heart attack patients. I reminded him that he “owed” me $10,000. He laughed and, without missing a beat, said, “Just a minute while I get my sister’s check book.”

Chris would find this tribute embarrassing. He would have begged me not to write it. But I’m not doing it for Chris. I’m doing it for me and for his family and friends.

And believe me, I am crying.

–Sinatra —

Jim Walker is sports editor of The Tribune.