Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | Rose "Mama Rose" Payne

Mama Rose Payne, oldest member of St. Petersburg's Friendship Missionary Baptist church

ST. PETERSBURG — The tiny woman with the tidy hair and church clothes strolled from bar to bar along 18th Avenue S.

She plopped on a stool and ordered a Coke and peered at the men cozied up to beers, the men who came to church on Sunday but didn't live the word throughout the week.

She called them all over. They came like sheep, because they knew about her.

"Uh-uh," she told them. "If you want to get to heaven, you got to be like Jesus."

Rose "Mama Rose" Payne lived 96 years and died Monday. She was solid, she told people, because she didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't run the streets. And, of course, because she preached.

She said what she thought and meant what she said. When she was 14 and growing up in Jordan Park, she told her family she was leaving the home church because the people fought too much. She joined St. Petersburg's Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, back when it had eight members and a different name.

She stayed for 82 years.

She oversaw the church's missions, and she took it seriously. So seriously, she preached every single place she went.

"She would preach to me wherever she would see me, whether it was the old Webb City parking lot or the Winn-Dixie produce section," said Arthur Reese, a deacon at the church. "She would preach to the old men. 'Where have you been? You spend time everywhere. Why don't you be in church?' She'd stop you in your tracks."

Well into her 80s, she drove her little white Ford to bad parts of town where troubled kids loitered beneath trees. She stood in the middle of the street, never screaming, just jabbing that finger into the air and telling the people what was what. Her daughter, Barbara Thomas, told her to stop. What could happen to her, out there all alone?

Her mother refused.

"If I didn't take Jesus with me, then I would wonder what was going to happen."

Mrs. Payne had six children, four biological and two she adopted when their mother was in jail. She made the kids get up at 6 a.m. and finish homework while she cooked eggs and grits. Then, she started the daily routine of the three cleaning jobs she worked while her husband, Handy, traveled with the Army.

Sundays were for learning, and if her children fell asleep in church, she put two small fingers to their flesh and pinched. Saturdays, when all the kids in town watched movies at the Royal Theater, Mrs. Payne went, too.

"We wouldn't go unless she went with us," said Thomas, 71. "She wanted us safe. She wanted us protected like that."

Her husband was so smitten with her, he followed her everywhere and constantly cuddled up to her at home. She preached to him, too, every day, to put down the drinks and cigarettes and to go to church. She succeeded, in part.

"He drank that stuff, but he went to church," said Thomas. "She stayed on him. 'Listen,' she would tell him. 'Listen. If you want me, then you got to serve the Lord. If you don't want me, then you leave.'

"Honey, daddy wasn't going nowhere."

When she got older, she got a special seat at the front of church, where the most respected sat. She sang in the choir and raised money for Haiti long before there was an earthquake. When her circulation got bad, the deacons wheeled her into church. When it got really bad, she stayed home, the television always tuned to the gospel station.

Every other weekend, a throng of people she preached to got in their cars and drove down her street, so many cars that no one could get through. They came inside and sang and prayed.

They brought church to her.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at or (727) 893-8857.


Rose "Mama Rose" Payne

Born: April 15, 1914.

Died: March 15, 2010.

Survivors: Daughter Barbara Thomas; sons Charles Payne, Leroy Watson and Shane Watson; sister Susan Turner; grandchildren Diane Elias, Stephanie Brown, Bridgette Elias, Kevin Elias, Iesha Watson, Janice Lewis, Ahmi Stewart, Laronna McMiller, Qwaiyyi Stewart, Charles Payne Jr., Michael Payne, Richard Payne and Tracy Payne; and many great-grandchildren. Predeceased by husband Handy Payne; and daughters Mary "Ami" Brinkley and Carolyn Payne.

Mama Rose Payne, oldest member of St. Petersburg's Friendship Missionary Baptist church 03/20/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 20, 2010 7:29pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Jason Aldean fires up a country-dude party at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre


    Country music has a dude problem.

    I’m not talking about the proliferation of mindless bro country over the past half-decade, nor am I referring to the fact that most of Nashville’s best music these days comes not from said bros, from female singers and songwriters.

    Jason Aldean performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 18, 2018.
  2. President Trump offers prayers for Kissimmee police


    President Donald Trump reacted to the police shooting in Kissimmee:

  3. Kissimmee police officer dies, one gravely wounded; Jacksonville officers shot


    KISSIMMEE — A Kissimmee police officer died and a second was gravely wounded Friday night, police Chief Jeff O'Dell said.

    Two police officers have been shot and killed in Kissimmee, authorities say. The shooting happened in the area of Palmway and Cypress around 9:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. Photo courtesy of
  4. Longest home run at Trop and Erasmo Ramirez's pitching doom Rays (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kevin Kiermaier returned. The problem was, so did Erasmo Ramirez.

    Seattle Mariners first baseman Yonder Alonso (10) scores on the double by Seattle Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz (23) in the first inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, August 18, 2017.
  5. 'Road to Nowhere' is back: Next phase of Suncoast Parkway coming


    Despite intense public opposition and dubious traffic projections, the Florida Department of Transportation has announced that construction of the toll road known as "Suncoast 2" is expected to start in early 2018.

    The Suncoast Parkway ends at U.S. 98 just south of Citrus County. For years residents have opposed extending the toll road, a project dubbed the "Suncoast 2" into Citrus County. But state officials recently announced that the Suncoast 2 should start construction in early 2018. [Stephen J. Coddington  |  TIMES]