Father Sam Payne, left, blesses John and Kelly Coffelt's goldfish during the annual Blessing of the Animals service in front of St. Paul's Episcopal Church. / Staff Photo by Leigh Shelle Hunt

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Judge Sam Payne

His colleagues and successor on the bench paid tribute Wednesday to Samuel H. Payne, who served the community as a Hamilton County Circuit Court judge and Episcopal priest.

Payne, 85, died Monday. Services and a full obituary will be published in Sunday's Times Free Press.

The Hamilton County native was a Korean War veteran, joining the Air Force in 1950 and flying more than 25 combat missions as a gunner in a B-29 Superfortress. He came home and earned degrees from the University of Chattanooga and the University of Tennessee College of Law, where he met fellow Hamilton Countian Clarence Shattuck.

The two set up a practice together that lasted eight years.

"He was a dear and close friend, and there's no question in my mind I will miss him terribly," Shattuck, now a Hamilton County General Sessions Court judge, said.

"He was always sincere. Even though many times he would appear to be somewhat joking with a person, he was always sincere in what he said and what he did. In our practice, he had a wonderful rapport with clients in all walks of life," Shattuck said.

Then-Tennessee Gov. Winfield Dunn named Payne to fill a vacancy in Circuit Court in 1974. He repeatedly won re-election and served 32 years before his retirement in 2006.

Shattuck said his friend sometimes "could come across rather harsh" on the bench, "but he really always in my opinion had the people at heart; he was doing what he thought was best for them under the circumstances."

Payne's faith led to his ordination as an Episcopal priest in 1979. He was a curate of St. Peter's Episcopal Church until June 1994 and later served as an assistant at St. Paul's Episcopal Church.

"Sam was serving the community and people both ways, in the church as well as in the judiciary. People used to say he's married and buried everybody in this town," said his friend and colleague, Circuit Judge L. Marie Williams.

She remembers how Payne handled the order of his titles after his ordination in The Episcopal Church.

"He always said 'the Rev. and Honorable' Sam Payne, 'because my service to God comes before my earthly designation,'" said Williams, who knew him as a judge when she was just "a baby lawyer" and he was "a colleague and resource for me."

Both were Episcopalians, and although they were in different parishes, she said, she stayed in touch with him after he stepped down from the bench.

"He had a way of personally connecting with people that respected the dignity and individuality of each person. When you're talking with Sam, you always knew he was listening with his heart as well as his ears."

Circuit Judge Jeff Hollingsworth was elected in 2006 to the seat Payne relinquished.

"When I got here, I looked and found some very large shoes I was expected to fill," Hollingsworth said.

"The thought of having to fill those shoes frightened me. It was a challenge to live up to the legacy of Sam Payne as a judge and it's even harder to live up to his legacy as a man. He will be missed."

The North Chapel of Chattanooga Funeral Home, Crematory and Florist is handling arrangements.