Howard Payne ’48
Howard Payne ’48
Donning a velvet purple suit and hat every December, Howard Payne was TCU’s Santa Claus, spreading cheer before finals, to a generation of Horned Frogs from the 1980s to 2010s. He died in June at the age of 90.
Alongside wife Mildred Erby Payne, who portrayed Mrs. Claus, he made his annual entrance at the end of the campus treelighting ceremony, riding in a horse-drawn carriage with purple twinkle lights. The couple offered hugs and best wishes to students both stressed and merry.
The Christmastime role was among many during a 28-year post-career association with the university. From 1982 to his retirement in 2009, he focused on care and support of Horned Frog undergraduates as a part of Campus Recreation and Housing and Residential Life.
Howard also was active in volunteering, specifically as a counselor at Frog Camp and as an advisor for the Sigma Nu fraternity. His love for TCU is especially noted for his almost 25 years of continuous attendance at TCU commencement exercises.
In 2011, the Paynes served as grand marshals of the Homecoming parade for the first time.
The Paynes met at TCU as students in the 1940s after World War II after Howard served as a radio operator on bomber aircraft. Neither graduated from the university, but the never lost touch with their TCU friends, even after moving to West Texas, where Howard worked as an oilfield supply purchasing agent. The couple moved back to Fort Worth in the 1960s to raise a family, and Howard worked another 20 years as a local homebuilder, before joining the TCU staff in 1982.
The Paynes wore traditional garb as the couple from the North Pole for years. But even Santa sometimes needs to get a wish. In 2006, theatre department professor and costume designer LaLonnie Lehman ’75 created the special purple suits for the Paynes.
Longtime friends, Howard had asked Lehman to make him such a suit years before, but the professor’s demanding production schedule never allowed her to sew one.
Spying a piece of purple fabric on a shopping trip reminded her of his request. Unable to find just the right shade of Horned Frog purple through her usual sources, Lehman finally called on the help of theatre alumnus Barry Doss ’91 in New York, who was happy to ship twelve yards of luxurious TCU purple velvet. Lehman has been with the TCU theatre department for 35 years, but this was her first opportunity to create a Santa suit. The labor of love features details like a gold TCU logo on Santa’s hat and a cluster of jingling bells at the belt. “We’re in theater, so we get carried away sometimes,” Lehman told the magazine in 2006.