By Meg Dickens
John and Joan Payne are well known throughout the Johnson County community. John’s family has occupied Mountain City, TN for seven generations and both he and Joan grew up in the area. No matter where life tried to take them, the Paynes have always lived here; There truly is no place like home after all. The couple has two daughters, one son and three grandchildren.
The Paynes never doubted which career to pursue as both planned to teach from the very beginning and the location was just as obvious.
“I wanted to make a difference in the lives of kids in Johnson County,” John said.
They each had influential teachers in their lives that inspired them to pursue this career.
For John, it was his mother, while Joan was influenced by her Physical Education teacher, Mary Hux. John started teaching in 1972 and Joan started in 1974.
Joan taught pretty much every subject except English in her long career. She taught at Laurel Elementary, Johnson County Middle School, and Johnson County High School. Joan was also very involved in coaching including the first volleyball teams that reached state before the division system was in place. The team placed in the top eight teams in Tennessee. Joan also started a countywide volleyball organization for elementary school students and was so beloved that she secured a spot in the Tennessee Teachers Hall of Fame in 2006.
John focused more on the administrative route and held the following positions: math and science teacher in elementary through middle school, Assistant Principal and Principal at Mountain City Elementary, a supervisor at Central Office, Johnson County Middle School Principal, Johnson County Superintendent Finance Director at Elizabethton City Schools, Unicoi County Middle School Assistant Principal, Johnson County High School Principal, Director of Unicoi County Schools, School Improvement Specialist with the State of Tennessee Exemplary Educators Program, worked with the Chamber of Commerce and was President of the TN Organization of School Superintendents.
John was the first person to be re-elected for a second term as Johnson County Superintendent. He was also named Volunteer of the Year between 2008 and 2009.
Sadly, John’s career was cut short when he was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2005. Joan retired the same year to care for him. John is currently in remission and doing well. His diagnosis did not stop him from continuing his work. Both he and Joan are still active in the community. They volunteer through the First Baptist Church Christians Actively Reaching Everyone (C.A.R.E.) program which helps with needs such as illness, special needs, and home wheelchair accessibility.
The Paynes are also involved with the Johnson County Retired Teachers Association (JCRTA). This organization is made up of former teachers in the Johnson County area and deals with needs or promoting education.JCRTA has recently gained college equality for children of retired teachers.
“God has taken care of us, and we have been blessed,” John said.
Life has slowed to a more leisurely pace for the Paynes which makes it far easier to focus more on the family. A normal day involves puzzles or word puzzles, yard, and housework, talking to their children, receiving adorable photos of their grandchildren, reading and a healthy dose of HGTV. The Paynes keep an eye out for anyone in need and continue to serve the community. Whether it is fighting for education, volunteering at the senior center, or reaching out to anyone with a need, John and Joan continue to make a difference. It does not matter that time has passed. They are beloved and remembered throughout Johnson County.