Another of the selfless volunteers who made the R.I. Giant Slalom Championships the highlight of the state’s winter sports calendar for decades has died. Tom Payne, the Cranston dentist who doubled as race chairman for 16 years in the 1980s and 1990s, died last Saturday, March 26, in Naples, Fla., where he had retired after a 46-year career. He was 91.
I remember Doc Payne as a kind, self-effacing man who worked hard to promote the R.I. Ski Runners and their annual race, especially when it was run at Mt. Cranmore in North Conway, N.H., and later at Attitash in nearby Bartlett. As race chairman he worried non-stop for at least a month before the event. He worried about snow, or lack thereof. During snow droughts in the late 1970s and early 1980s, that was a legitimate concern at Mt. Cranmore, which, like many New England areas at the time, had minimal snowmaking capability. He worried about the weather forecast for drivers making the long Friday night push from Rhode Island to the Mt. Washington Valley and about course conditions for race day. Most of all he worried about skiers entering by the deadline. Those who waited until the last minute caused him angst. Those few who waited until the morning of drove him crazy, but he still accommodated them, as long as he had extra bibs.
Tom had his own system of keeping track of the field, which in good years exceeded 150 men, women, boys and girls, as I recall. Those were the days before computer- generated spread sheets so he used index cards. Rather, his office staff used index cards. Each racer had a card with name, address and age neatly typed or printed. Tom arranged the cards by gender and age group. Volunteers marked the finish times on the cards and put them in order. Tom presided over the awards ceremony, often having to shout above the din in the base lodge, and presented trophies to the top three finishers in each age group and to the fastest male and female. At the conclusion he gave the stack to me so I could have them published along with my story the next day in The Providence Journal. As he handed them over, he always flashed a smile of relief.
Tom was more than a race chairman. He was a racer himself. He relished going against contemporaries Bill Nixon of Warwick and Joe Pino of Lincoln. One of them usually finished first, but Doc Payne also experienced the thrill of victory. His obituary in The Journal yesterday and today noted that he won his division twice.
Tom had four children, Thomas III, John, Lindsey and Nancy, so it was common for the name Payne to be sprinkled among the finishers. He was proud of them.
Skiing and racing – Tom had a slopeside condo at Attitash – were but two of his athletic pursuits. He was also a runner. He supported the Warwick 10k and the Ocean State Marathon and completed the 26.2-mile run in Newport when he was 60 and again when he was 64. He ran the Blessing of the Fleet 10-miler in Narragansett 18 times.
Doc Payne served as a pharmacist’s mate in the Navy during World War II, graduated from the University of Maryland’s school of dental surgery and practiced in Providence for 20 years before moving his office to Cranston. He was a member of several societies and clubs.
Besides his children, Dr. Thomas L. Payne, Jr., is survived by three siblings and seven grandchildren. His funeral will be Saturday at 10 a.m. with a Mass of Christian Burial at St. Thomas More Church. Calling hours will be held Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Nardolillo Funeral Home in Narragansett.
Rest in peace, Tom. You enriched the experience of a generation of Rhode Island skiers.