Joseph Neal Payne was born in Carroll County, Virginia, where he graduated from Galax High School in 1945. He continued his education at Roanoke College and received the Bachelor of Science degree in 1949, majoring in mathematics. At Roanoke, he was a student instructor of mathematics for several years and was a member of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. Roanoke College also holds a special distinction for Joe because here he met his future wife, Ruth Cornett '50.
Payne went on to earn a Master of Education degree from the University of Virginia in 1951 and a Ph.D. from the University in 1955, both in mathematics education. Payne began his teaching career while a graduate student at UVA, teaching in the public schools in Carroll County and in Charlottesville. He then taught at a private school in Alabama and then at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he served as a professor of mathematics education. He retired in 1994 after 37 years of distinguished service.
During his tenure at the University of Michigan, Dr. Payne taught Undergraduate and Graduate Courses in Mathematics Education. He directed 44 dissertations, 3 Education Specialists and served on 47 other doctoral committees. He did research on mathematics learning, wrote numerous professional articles, books, and school mathematics textbooks. Dr. Payne was active in state and national professional organization and did consulting work for school systems and State Departments of Education. Joe also chaired and served on numerous committees.
Dr. Payne has received many honors, including the Undergraduate Teaching Excellence Award from the School of Education at the University of Michigan; the Service Award from the Michigan Council of Teachers of Mathematics; the Honorary Paul Harris Award from the Ann Arbor Rotary Club; and the School of Education Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of Virginia.
After his retirement in 1994, Joe and Ruth returned to Charlottesville where Joe stays connected to his alma maters. He serves on the board of The Curry School of Education Foundation at the University of Virginia and chairs the Awards Committee there. He is a member of the Science and Math Advisory Committee at Roanoke, and the Paynes are members of the Roanoke College Associates, the Society of 1842 and the Honor Guard. They have hosted Roanoke College events in Charlottesville for alumni and parents.
Joe and Ruth have two children, Neal Jr. and Jody, and four grandchildren.
Joseph N. Payne received the Roanoke College Medal in 2006.