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Scouts salute ‘remarkable’ leader

When Al Payne came home from Vietnam with injuries so disabling he couldn’t play sports with his young sons, he sought another activity to share with them.

He found it in Scouts.

The Stafford County man became a Cub Scoutmaster because of his children—and stayed with the organization long after they outgrew it.

He’s spent 35 years in Scouting, most with Troop 179 at Fairview Baptist Church in Fredericksburg. Early on, he undertook the task of tracking merit badges and rank advancements.

He made sure the paperwork was in order for 130 boys to become Eagle Scouts, the most prestigious award in Boy Scouts.

“He’s been an institution at Troop 179,” said former Scoutmaster Joe Powell.

Barry Jones, another former leader, said Payne had an “amazing degree of accuracy,” especially considering he’s kept all the records on paper.

Others in Scouting have migrated to computer programs because they’re faster and have built-in accuracy checks, Jones said.

“That makes Al’s performance all the more remarkable since he was largely a one-man show with nobody to back him up or provide accuracy checks,” Jones said.

Meanwhile, Payne is a man of few words. He said he felt like he had accomplished something, too, when boys earned top honors.

“It makes me feel proud,” he said.

The 67-year-old recently decided to pass along the duties he’s held for 29 years. He turned in all his notebooks and ledgers filled with copious notes and double-checked details.

“You all can have the computers,” Payne said. “I’m sticking with my longhand.”

DISABLED AT AGE 22

Payne’s first name is Alfred, but everyone knows him as Al. As a child, he went to Scout meetings at the old Falmouth Baptist Church.

His father was the Scoutmaster, and Payne stayed with the troop only a few years. He didn’t like being forced to do something.

“My daddy kinda pushed, and I kinda pushed back,” he said.

Payne drove a truck after high school until he was drafted in the Vietnam War. He was 22 in June 1969, assigned to an artillery unit that provided security for convoys going to different camps.

He was riding in a half-track truck, a type of armored vehicle, when mortar fragments hit him. They entered his right hip and went out the other side, damaging nerves and muscles along the way.

He was in the hospital for 16 months, then was medically discharged in September 1970.

Doctors rated his disability as 100 percent.

Payne was sent home with a cane. When he and Rita married a month later, doctors told the two his condition would deteriorate. Eventually, he would need a walker, then a wheelchair.

His bride wouldn’t let that happen. She helped him work through the depression and encouraged him to stay active.

“I’m a pusher,” she said. “I tell him he can rest some, but he’s gotta keep going.”

DEDICATED TO THE TROOP

Payne still uses his cane, and his abilities have become more limited in recent years after a heart attack and prostate cancer. Changes in the weather are particularly painful, and he can’t stand to sit for too long.

That’s why he usually was on his feet during most Scout meetings. Despite his discomfort, Payne was always the first one at the church to make sure things were set up, and the last one to leave, after checking that the lights were out and the rooms were cleaned.

“Mr. Payne’s work for the troop and dedication to the Boy Scouts as a whole is why this organization was founded in the first place,” said Nathan Crowther, who became an Eagle Scout in 2012.

FINDING WAYS TO HELP

Payne has found ways to do what he can, at home or with community groups.

He’s been a member of the Falmouth Volunteer Fire Department for 50 years. He can’t run calls, but he’s helped with support activities, such as bingo or sergeant-at-arms duties.

While his wife worked as a nursing assistant to pay the bills, he was Mr. Mom, taking care of their two sons and all the household chores.

These days, he’s become “Mr. PaPa” as he cares for his two grandsons, ages 5 and 10. One of the reasons he’s leaving Scouting is to spend more time with them.

“I still got the grandkids to take care of me,” Payne said, adding they’ve become protective since his recent health problems. “They watch me more than I watch them.”

‘CONSTANT GUIDANCE’

Fellow troop leaders described Payne as humble and non-assuming, a man who didn’t want—or expect—any credit. That’s why they toasted and roasted him recently at a dinner in his honor.

Troop leaders guessed that Payne had filled out forms for more than 5,000 merit badges and 1,200 rank advancements. He also had prepared the paperwork for more than 120 Courts of Honor and 1,200 Scout conferences.

“The number of lives of Scouts and their families that Al has touched is in the hundreds,” Jones said. “Each of them is much the better for it.”

That influence extends to the community, said Glen Bulloss Jr., who became an Eagle Scout in 2003. He and others have done projects to improve public space and have served in leadership positions with community groups.

“We couldn’t have done so without Al’s constant guidance,” Bulloss added.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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