Harry Charles Payne, 17th president of the College, died on January 7, 2008, in Atlanta, GA, at the age of 60. He served as Hamilton's chief administrator from 1988 until 1993, when he left the Hill to assume the presidency of Williams College. In 2000, he was appointed president of Woodward Academy, a preparatory school in the Atlanta suburb of College Park, and he continued to occupy that position until his death.
Harry C. Payne, a native of Worcester, MA, who preferred to be called and was known by all as "Hank," brought to Hamilton's presidency extensive experience both in teaching and in administration. A summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Yale University, he remained at Yale to earn his Ph.D. degree in history in 1973. A specialist in the 18th century, he began his teaching career at Colgate University, where he rose from instructor to full professor.
While at Colgate, Hank Payne served as acting dean of the Faculty as well as provost. He was director of Colgate's Division of Social Sciences in 1985, when he moved on to Haverford College as professor of history and provost. In 1988, Hank Payne, the then acting president of Haverford, was chosen to succeed J. Martin Carovano at Hamilton, becoming the College's first president of the Jewish faith.
During Hank Payne's tenure, Hamilton's faculty was expanded and the curriculum broadened, particularly in non-Western areas of study. The College remained financially stable, a new capital campaign, "The Campaign for the '90s," was launched, and extensive new campus construction and renovation was carried out. In addition, a new program to "market" the College more aggressively to prospective students and their families was undertaken, a program that contributed significantly to Hamilton's admissions success in subsequent years.
In 1999, after serving for almost six years as president of Williams, Hank Payne resigned that post and the following year relocated to Atlanta where, according to friends, he welcomed the opportunity to "work on new challenges in a vibrant big city." Woodward, a large independent school with 2,850 students from kindergarten to grade 12, continued to thrive under his leadership, and at the time of his death, it was in the midst of a new capital campaign. At a luncheon on the very day of his passing, he gave an inspirational talk to Woodward's faculty and staff, looking forward in a highly upbeat mood to the new year.
Later that day, Hank Payne's body was found outside the Marriott Courtyard hotel in midtown Atlanta. He had apparently jumped from an 8th floor balcony in what was ruled by the medical examiner's office a suicide, a finding that was further evidenced by notes he left behind in his hotel room. He is survived by his wife, Deborah, who teaches at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, and his sons, Jonathan, an assistant professor at Stanford University, and Samuel, a postdoctoral fellow, also at Stanford.