Beloved Duke Ellington Principal Dies of Heart Attack

The principal of Duke Ellington School for the Arts — Father John Payne — died suddenly Oct. 9, and a school community is in mourning.

Payne had a cardiac arrest at the school, which is temporarily located at Eugene Meyer Elementary School on 11th Street, NW, while the main Duke Ellington School building on 35th Street, NW, is undergoing major renovation and modernization. He later died at the hospital.

Payne was involved with Duke Ellington School since 1995. He became Dean of Students in 2000 and then was the school’s facilities manager and Director of Student Affairs. Payne has worked on many of the school’s renovations.

In August, Payne was named Head of School, succeeding Rory Pullens.

“Today, our hearts are heavy as we mourn the loss of our friend and colleague Father John Payne,” said District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson in a DCPS statement. “During his decades of service at Duke Ellington, Father Payne helped thousands of students achieve their dreams. Whether you knew Father Payne for years, or for only a few minutes, you instantly felt his passion and commitment as a champion of the arts and education. Father Payne insisted upon excellence for his students and was a stalwart believer in possibility and tradition. He had an abundance of faith in his students, showed them love every single day, and set an example that created a welcoming and thriving school community. While we grieve this tragic loss, we send our prayers, our thoughts and our condolences to his family.”

“Everyone who knew Father Payne regarded him with the utmost respect,” wrote board president Charles Barber on the school’s website. “He was a brilliant, loving and courageous man who had a passion for helping children. He dedicated his life to the students of Ellington for 20 years.”

Payne arrived at Ellington after serving as Associate Pastor of St. Augustine Catholic Church. He was an Augustinian Friar and a native Washingtonian.
There were grief counseling session yesterday and today at the Meyer School at 2501 11th St. NW. Duke Ellington School also holds classes at Garnet-Patterson Middle School, 2001 10th St., NW. Memorial services are pending.

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