Not just the first, but the only black congressman to have ever been elected in New Jersey, Donald Payne died at the age of 77 on Tuesday at Saint Barnabas Hospital in Livingston, New Jersey.
The Democratic congressman held his seat since 1988, and was re-elected to his 12th term in 2010. He was the representative of New Jersey’s 10th District which includes Newark, and some of Essex, Hudson and Union counties.
Donald Payne was an active member of his community, serving it many capacities. He was a teacher in Newark for 15 years, and served as the president of the national YMCA. From 1982 until 1988 Payne was a member of the Newark City Council, until he was elected to his congressional seat. As congressman Payne was the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and was a congressional delegate to the United Nations. He graduated from Seton Hall University in 1957 with a bachelor’s degree.
Last February Payne announced that he was beginning treatment for colon cancer, but would continue to represent his district as its congressman despite his illness. Last week Payne’s health suddenly deteriorated, and on Friday he was flown to New Jersey from Georgetown University Hospital.
Several of his colleagues from Congress remembered him, especially for his work for the poor and for human rights.
“Congressman Payne spoke out on behalf of suffering people in some of the most difficult situations around the world: from Rwanda to Sudan to the peace process in Northern Ireland,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi Democrat from California.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said about Payne that “He was a leader with great compassion for every person he had the honor of representing. He was a great role model for every person in NJ who aspires to public services. He was a true gentleman and we considered him a friend.”
Donald Payne was a widower who leaves behind three children and four grandchildren. His son Donald Payne Jr. is a city councilman in Newark.