Millions of tourists who’ve never heard his name have Donald R. Payne to thank for helping to create their Las Vegas memories.
As manager of the Las Vegas News Bureau for more than three decades, Payne helped to sell to the world Las Vegas’ image as a glamorous vacation destination. His legacy still can be seen in now-iconic photos that are staples of books and documentaries about Las Vegas
Payne died peacefully at home Thursday, according to his daughter, Patricia Bloomfield. He was 92.
Payne “was active in promoting and sharing the history of Las Vegas … especially (through) the vital role he and his colleagues played at the (Las Vegas) News Bureau,” said Michael Green, an associate professor of history at UNLV.
As news bureau manager, Payne shepherded the assigning, selection and dissemination to news outlets around the world of photos and stories about Las Vegas, as well as publicity photos of showgirls, celebrities and visiting tourists whose photos would be sent to hometown newspapers.
The bureau’s photographers “were the ones who took the iconic photos,” Green said, but Payne “kept things moving and made sure the coverage got out there.”
Payne helped to shape the image of Las Vegas through the quality photographers he hired, the photo assignments he made and his skill in selecting images that would most effectively market the city, said Robert Stoldal, longtime Las Vegas journalist and local historian.
While Payne had an excellent understanding of what newspapers and TV stations might want, “Don just had that ability to market the community in a very positive but journalistically sound way,” Stoldal added.
During the mid-1960s, Payne, then general manager of a local radio station, hired Stoldal for a midnight to 6 a.m. DJ shift, “which really was a giant opportunity for me,” Stoldal said. “It was from that that I started working on the news. I’d stay there in the morning and do radio news reports. I began my career under Don.”
Later, as a longtime Las Vegas TV news director, Stoldal found Payne to be an excellent source for tips or background on stories.
“He was just a positive guy,” Stoldal said. ”You enjoyed being around Don because he was just a good guy.”
Payne was born in Quogue, Long Island, New York. When Payne was 11, he and his family — his mother and father, two older brothers and an older sister — moved to Reno and eventually to Las Vegas.
Payne graduated from Las Vegas High School in 1947 and attended the University of Nevada, Reno for one year. He married at 20 and had three children with his first wife, Nancy.
Payne worked a variety of jobs in his youth, including pumping gas at a gas station on Las Vegas Boulevard and laying tile at the Tropicana hotel.
After divorcing in 1956, Payne took a job as a traveling advertising salesman for a national magazine. From 1957 to 1959, Payne and his children lived in Spokane, Washington; San Diego; Sparks, Nevada; and Phoenix before returning to Las Vegas permanently in 1959.
On Valentine’s Day 1964, Payne married Gretchen Harris. That same year, he got a job as a writer with the news bureau. He became manager in 1969. Payne retired from the bureau in the early 2000s to spend more time with his family, Bloomfield said.
Survivors include his wife, Gretchen, six children, 12 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren, one brother and one nephew. He was preceded in death by two sons.
Services are pending.