I’ve known Harry Payne for nearly 20 years — but never really met him until Tuesday.
It was about time.
Payne, the former state Commissioner of Labor and chairman of the Employment Security Commission, asked for an appointment to sit and chat. Now an attorney for the N.C. Justice Center, Payne is still interested in employment issues. He told me it’s in his blood. It’s what he knows best. He could talk about it all day long, if an audience is available.
Fortunately I was.
He called on the recommendation of his spouse, which is how I sort of came to know of him years ago. Our paths had crossed just once before, at an awards ceremony a few years back for the North Carolina Press Association. It was a nice-to-meetcha kind of deal before all the reporters and editors scattered to sit with their own newspapers. In-between I had missed a chance to meet him because I couldn’t be there on the day he married my former colleague at the Times-News and longtime friend, Ruth Sheehan. On the day I got married a few years later, Payne couldn’t make the trip, but Ruth was there with their son — a kid who endlessly consumed Frosted Flakes as a bribe from his mom to stay quiet and still throughout the ceremony.
I’m now told this kid is 16 years old, 6 feet 2 inches tall and a pretty fair athlete. Time simply won’t fit in that bottle.
Anyway, Tuesday, it was great to sit and get acquainted with someone Ruth has told me about over the years. I was in sports when Ruth arrived in Burlington from the University of Wisconsin in the late 1980s and we became pretty good friends. She covered the Alamance County Board of Commissioners and politics. She was great at both. Later when I became city editor, she was the first reporter to work the newly reopened Raleigh Bureau for Freedom’s newspapers in North Carolina. Later, she joined the News and Observer as a reporter and then a columnist. About two years ago, she made the sad decision to leave journalism and return to school to get a law degree.
It was a smart move professionally. The news business, though, lost a strong and important voice when she left.
I haven’t seen or spoken to Ruth since she enrolled at the University of North Carolina. Harry — now that we’re acquainted I’ll give him first name status — says the best place to find her these days is on the UNC campus. Law school was, is and always will be a bear to conquer. I’ve seen “The Paper Chase.” I think she’s going to finish in 2013. They have three sons, ages 16, 13 and 9.
All are doing well — busy, but well. The boys are hitting that teen period when they become experts on just about everything. Harry said he’s gone from dear old dad to unfathomably ignorant ogre in almost no time at all.
“The 9-year-old still sort of likes me,” he said with a laugh.
The issue Harry wanted to talk about involved repayment for unemployment insurance trust fund and its massive debt to the federal government– something the General Assembly will take up during the looming short session. We’ll probably write something about that when it looks like debate is ready to start.
But Harry also has some insight into the current unemployment situation in the state — and nation. It’s his field, after all. Then factor in that Harry himself was unemployed for for a five-month period during the dark days of this ongoing recession.
I’ll have more about that in my column on Sunday.