In 1986, when Rhonda Payne started her entry-level job at the Douglas County Superior Court clerk’s office, she had plans to be more than a general clerk. She was 18 and had recently graduated from Douglas County High School, but she was determined and energetic.
Within weeks, she was transferred out of the records room and to the front office. In the ’90s she was the office manager, and by 1999 she’d been promoted to chief deputy clerk. When the clerk died in 2007, Payne was appointed to fill the position until the November 2008 election, which she won.
Payne, of Douglasville, was re-elected twice, and remained the clerk until Sunday, when she died from complications from cancer, diagnosed three weeks earlier. She was 46.
A funeral is planned for 2 p.m. Thursday at Ephesus Baptist Church, Villa Rica. Burial in the church cemetery will immediately follow. Hightower’s Memorial Chapel, Douglasville, is in charge of arrangements.
Payne was known across the county as the “go-to person” in the clerk’s office, said Tammy Howard, a co-worker and friend. Howard, who was sworn in as clerk Monday, said there is a void in the office, and in her life, that will never be filled.
“She knew where everything was,” Howard said. “She always had ideas of ways to do things more efficiently. She’d call me on a weekend and say, ‘You know what we need to do?’ and she’d tell me, and I’d say, ‘I’m right there with you, sister!’ And Monday morning, that’s what we would do.”
Payne worked in nearly every position in the office, if she didn’t spend time in them all. She jumped at the chance to train using new technologies and computer programs, with the goal of improving office productivity, Howard said.
Hazel Burton, who started at the clerk’s office within weeks of Payne, said research and organization were two of Payne’s strengths.
“If a new rule or law came in from the state, Rhonda would read the whole thing and look up anything she needed to before explaining it to everybody else,” said Burton, who manages the office. “And once she understood it, she told everybody, ‘This is how we’ve got to do things now.’ And that was that.”
One of Payne’s proudest moments was being selected as the 2007 Douglas County administrative employee of the year, her mother said.
“They picked from all of the county workers and she was so happy and honored they chose her,” Geneva Payne said of her daughter. “There was no doubt, she loved her job.”
There was also a special place in Payne’s heart for her family, said her sister, Kim Payne. The two built a home together, just across the way from their parents and not far from aunts, uncles and cousins.
“When something was wrong, she wanted to be the one to take care of them,” Payne said, of her sister.
Rhonda Payne’s sudden illness brought all of the people she liked to care for to her bedside.
“But she was still running this office over the phone,” Howard said, with a laugh. “She was still telling us all what to do. We wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
In addition to her mother and sister, Payne is survived by her father, Bob Payne of Douglasville; and grandmother, Georgie Vansant of Douglasville.