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Activist Larry Payne ’72 Leaves a Legacy of Goodness, Discipline, Knowledge and Community


"We are put on the face of this earth for one reason – to serve our fellow human beings to help them succeed."

- Larry Payne '72

Larry Payne '72Well-known and beloved at UST-Houston, throughout Greater Houston and beyond, Laurence J. Payne '72, a voice for social justice and a passionate believer in education as a means of breaking the cycle of poverty, passed away Nov. 26, 2023, after a courageous fight with cancer at the age of 73.

An ever-humble force for goodness, Payne embodied servant leadership and was a man of action. As a civic leader, activist, facilitator, champion, and advocate for noble causes, especially his alma mater the University of St. Thomas, Larry continuously held mission and service to others as a personal priority. For Payne, politics and religion were easily and quietly intertwined as avenues to shape a brighter future for as many people as possible. Even battling cancer, he successfully chaired the Mayor's Taskforce on police reforms.

Payne said, "I am very committed to servant leadership. We are put on this earth for one reason – to serve our fellow human beings to help them succeed."

“Larry's love of service extends into leadership roles across sectors - in public, educational, not-for-profit, and religious settings,” UST President Richard Ludwick. “He is the ultimate connector, a role that he describes as his truest purpose, connecting people from entirely different walks of life and helping them connect with their deepest truth.”

Payne earned a bachelor's degree in theology from UST. He went on to study for the priesthood at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill. Several months before ordination, Payne felt called to work for the Catholic Church in lay positions. He served as the lay and first African American to hold the title of vicar in any Roman Catholic church in the U.S.

He moved back to Houston in 1985 to work with then Mayor Kathy Whitmire. After several years in politics, Payne entered the nonprofit sector. He became president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Greater Houston Coalition for Educational Excellence for six years. In this position, he coordinated and organized the city's business, nonprofit and religious communities to work together on education reform.

In 2002, he was named President and CEO of Habitat for Humanity, a position he held until having a stroke in June 2006. Other positions included chair of the Harris County Educational Foundation, responsible for after-school programs for 26 school districts in Harris County.

The University of St. Thomas community will remember Payne as an example of what it means to be truly present. From regular attendance at our on-campus Mass services, to active volunteerism, and being a reliable source of advice to university leadership as a member of the President’s Advisory Board, Payne tirelessly advocated on behalf of his alma mater. His work to support the St. Martin de Porres Society which provides scholarships for minority students, and the Donald S. Nesti CSSp Center for Faith and Culture will be a cherished piece of his legacy at UST.

A lifetime of loving service culminated in Payne’s recognition with one of UST’s highest honors, the Vincent J. Guinan, CSB, Distinguished Alumnus Award, bestowed to Payne in 2007. The award is given to an alumnus in celebration of their leadership to the University and community.

At the time, fellow alumnus Anthony Pizzitola '73 MBA ’82, who was instrumental in Payne's selection for the Distinguished Alumni Award, said, "Larry Payne has taken the University core values – goodness, discipline, knowledge and community and walked the talk for 30 years in leadership positions that require faith and character."

In 2021, UST honored Payne yet again, highlighting his example of faith in action at the Center for Faith and Culture’s annual Faithful Citizenship Dinner, alongside fellow Houston legends Stan Marek and Sr. Rosanne Popp, CCVI. That same year, the University bestowed the inaugural Laurence J. “Larry” Payne Leadership Award to Larry Payne himself. The award was created in recognition of his tireless, ongoing efforts, vision, and civic leadership to promote equity in communities throughout the Houston region and will be awarded to UST graduates who embody these qualities for years to come.

May you rest in peace, dear friend.   

Larry is husband to Regina Payne and is an active member of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Memorial Park, leading their community engagement initiatives.

May you rest in peace, dear friend.   

  • Services for Larry Payne are as follows: 
    Monday, Dec. 4, at St. Theresa Catholic Church, 6622 Haskell St., Houston, Texas 77007
    Viewing, 4 to 6 p.m. 
    Vigil,  6 to 7 p.m.  
    Rosary, 7 p.m.
  • Tuesday, Dec. 5 
    Viewing, 10 to 10:50 a.m. 
    Communion Mass, 11 a.m.
  • Wednesday, Dec. 6
    Home Church - St. Therese Catholic Church, 1409 6th Street, Orange, Texas 77630
    Communion Mass, 10 a.m.
  • Internment - St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery, 4320 Meeks Drive, Orange, Texas 77632 
  • Repast - St. Therese Catholic Church Hall

Please keep the Payne family in your prayers.