From The Olympics To The Masters

Billy Payne’s life in sports started on the playing fields of his high school

To paraphrase a World War II Marine Corps commander, “Retire, hell, I just got here.”

So says William Porter (Billy) Payne, who recently finished his second year as chairman of Augusta National Golf Club.

In his current role, Payne, the man who brought the 1996 Olympic Games to Atlanta, serves as major domo of the Masters Golf Tournament.

If you think Payne slows down once the Masters is over, think again. Once the green jacket is bestowed on a new champion, Payne can be found going full speed ahead at his business office, Gleacher Partners, LLC, in Atlanta. He’s a partner in the firm, which deals primarily with investments, investment banking, mergers and acquisitions.

“I get into the office at 8 a.m. and Billy is already there, knee deep in work,” says Alice Croxall, who’s been his executive assistant for the past 12 years. “Many days I do not have a chance to take my coat off. If he has something that needs to be done it needs to be done now. Keeping his calendar up is a challenge.

“There is a lot to do and not enough time to do it, especially during the Masters,” she says. “But it is a lot of fun and I love working with Billy Payne.”

Payne’s remarkable path started at Atlanta’s Dykes High where he was president of the student body. At UGA, in addition to his athletic accomplishments, he was vice-president of the student body, vice president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, winner of the distinguished service award from the UGA business school and recipient of an honorary Doctor of Laws.

Since graduating from Georgia, it has been non-stop for Payne. He has received honorary doctoral degrees from the University of South Carolina, Emory University, Mercer University and Presbyterian College.

He’s in the state of Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. He received the Distinguished Service Award from the Atlanta Urban League and has been named “Georgian of The Year” by the Georgia Association of Broadcasters and by Georgia Trend magazine. He’s a past recipient of the Theodore Roosevelt Award, the highest honor bestowed by the National Collegiate Athletic Associ-ation.

Billy was born in Athens, but grew up in Atlanta, where he was a high school football and baseball star. He was an all-state quarterback and the leading hitter on the baseball team.

He could have had a baseball scholarship to most SEC schools, but he chose football at the University of Georgia because he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his dad, the late Porter Payne, an All-Southeastern Conference tackle. Billy was an All-SEC end.

“My dad never was concerned with whether or not I was an All-Conference or All-American,” Billy says. “He was only concerned with whether or not I played every play to the fullest extent of my ability. That’s what I tried to do at Georgia and what I have tried to do with my life.”

Payne credits the late Georgia assistant coach, Erk Russell, as being the best motivator he ever had.

“His enthusiasm was contagious. He would mix it up with us head to head. He would get into a scrimmage and come at us full speed with no headgear.”

Billy says he is most grateful to the University of Georgia for three things. “First, I met, my wife [the former Martha Lamar Beard] there. Second, I met many students who became longtime friends and third, I had the opportunity, like my dad, to play major college football.”

As Georgia’s 1990 commencement address, speaker Payne told the graduates, “Give whatever effort it takes to succeed. When you feel like you cannot give anymore, keep giving. You can always do more than you think you can.”

Billy’s father died of heart failure at age 53 and Billy has suffered three heart attacks, the first at age 26. But he’s in good physical condition now and works out seven days a week.

“I feel great,” he says.

“There are no more fields to conquer. If the time ever comes for me to retire, I am going to spend my time with Martha, my children, Elizabeth, age 39, and William, age 35, and my nine grandchildren.”

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