TUSKEGEE, Ala. (September 29, 2016) — Dr. Benjamin F. Payton, the fifth president of Tuskegee University, died in Fort Myers, FL on Wednesday, Sept. 28. He was 83. Payton had served as Tuskegee’s leader from 1981 to 2010.
“Tuskegee University is deeply saddened by the loss of Dr. Payton,” said current and seventh president, Dr. Brian L. Johnson. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and the entire Tuskegee University community.”
Funeral services for Payton will be held on Sunday, Oct. 9 at 1 p.m. in the Tuskegee University Chapel. As customary with all past Tuskegee presidents and other leaders, Payton will be buried in the historic Tuskegee University Cemetery on campus.
During Payton’s tenure at Tuskegee, he worked tirelessly to continue the university’s legacy of exemplary leadership, which began with Booker T. Washington in 1881. Payton was responsible for many advances and partnerships during his 28-year tenure before his retirement. Most notably, he helmed the transition of Tuskegee Institute to Tuskegee University.
Among other achievements at Tuskegee: established/constructed the General Daniel “Chappie” James Center for Aerospace Science Engineering and Health Education; launched Tuskegee University’s first Ph.D. programs (Materials Science and Engineering and Integrative Biosciences); developed/constructed the $30 million Tuskegee University National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care; developed/constructed the Tuskegee University Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center; built new academic, research and training facility for the School of Veterinary Medicine; completed the $15 million state-of-the-art facility for the Andrew F. Brimmer College of Business and Information Science; restructured the academic programs into five colleges and reorganized all programs; and successfully completed three capital campaigns. During his time at Tuskegee, Payton oversaw more than $300 million invested in campus construction and improvements, student scholarships and more. The university’s endowment grew from a modest $15 million to more than $102 million.
Prior to becoming president of Tuskegee University, Payton led Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., from 1967 to 1972. He also had leadership stints at Howard University and the Ford Foundation.
In recognition of his leadership and dedication to education, Payton received many honors and honorary degrees. He was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002 to chair the newly formed Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. This was Payton’s third presidential appointment. He was also appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development and named by President George H.W. Bush to lead the Task Force on Agricultural and Economic Development to Zaire. Honorary degrees include: Doctor of Humane Letters from Howard University, Benedict College and Lehigh University; Doctor of Humanities from Morgan State University and Florida Memorial College; Doctor of Laws from Eastern Michigan University, Morris Brown College and South Carolina State University; and Doctor of Literature from the University of Maryland.
Payton was a member of many professional and social organizations, including the American Council on Education, the American Higher Education Association and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. and Sigma Pi Phi. His academic honors included membership in Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Kappa Mu.
Payton received his Bachelor of Arts degree from South Carolina State University in 1955; Bachelor of Divinity degree from Harvard University in 1958; Master of Arts degree from Columbia University in 1960; and Ph.D. from Yale University in 1963.
Survivors include one son, Mark Steven (Christiane) Payton; one daughter, Deborah Elizabeth Payton; four grandchildren, Danielle Marie, Maya Elizabeth, William Isaac and Nicholas Warren Payton; and three brothers and three sisters. He was preceded in death by his wife, Thelma Plane Payton, in 2013, and by two of his brothers, Leroy Oscar Payton and James Israel Payton, in 1998 and 1999, respectively.