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Former judge dies at home
Payne remembered for contributions to county
3 Paul Payne mug

Family and friends celebrated the life of Dawson County’s first Chief Magistrate Judge Aug. 29 and memorialized his dedication to his hometown.


Paul Payne, 76, of Dawsonville, died at his home Aug. 26, following a period of declining health.


A native of Dawson County, Payne served as justice of the peace from 1965-82 when the grand jury appointed him to the chief magistrate judgeship. He retired at the end of 2004 after 39 years of service.


“He never wanted any recognition,” said longtime friend Hubert Bailey, who also retired along with Payne in December 2004, after almost 40 years as the county’s tax commissioner.


“That’s just the way he was. I don’t think there’s a better person that’s lived or worked in Dawson County in the last 50 years than Paul Payne,” Bailey said. “There are some equals, but none any better.”


As the community gathered for their retirement ceremony almost four years ago, Payne said he enjoyed his years of service.


“I thought maybe I could make a difference,” he said. “I did my best. I have enjoyed it.”


And make a difference in this community, he did, said friend and colleague Hugh Fields.


“He was a fine person. His being elected that many times pretty much proves that, I think,” said Fields, who served as Dawson County Probate Judge during the same period that Payne served as Magistrate.


A deacon at the First Baptist Church of Dawsonville, Payne gave back to his church and his community in a number of ways.


“Years ago, even before the Gideons, who pass out Bibles now, Paul would buy Bibles for his preacher to pass out to people who didn’t have Bibles and couldn’t afford to buy them. That was just something he wanted to do,” Fields said.


For many years, Payne ran the magistrate’s office from his downtown Dawsonville property, where he also owned and operated a service station, wrecker service and fueling business.


“There were times over the years that sometimes I wouldn’t have the fuel money when I needed to. But never once did he send me a bill or ask me about paying,” Bailey said.


“And he did that same thing for lots of people in Dawson County. If someone needed something in the county, he’d do it.”


A 1950 Dawson County High School graduate, Payne served in the U.S. Navy and was a veteran of the Korean War.


“He was the true vision, the true definition of a public servant,” said Johnny Holtzclaw, who followed in Payne’s footsteps as Dawson County Chief Magistrate.


Payne was preceded in death by his first wife, Marie Looper Payne; parents, Arnold and Lucinda Payne and a sister, Ruby Holley. 


He is survived by his wife, Margaret Payne of Dawsonville, stepdaughters Sandra Gilleland and Karen Chester and sister, Betty Thompson of Gainesville. Several step-grandchildren, step-great-granddaughter, nieces, nephews and other relatives also survive.


Funeral services were held at Bearden Funeral Home Chapel in Dawsonville.


The Revs. Glenn Byrd, Cory Gilleland and Roger Holley officiated.


Interment followed at the Mill Creek Baptist Church Cemetery.