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The Honorable Jeff Payton

The Honorable Jeff Payton: Beloved Judge, Devoted Family Man, and Pillar of Mansfield
The Honorable Jeff Payton, one of Mansfield’s most notable leaders and a beloved pillar of the community, passed away on October 13, 2023, following a brave fight against cancer. He was surrounded by family and friends.
Judge Payton was more than a respected legal figure. As the first Black elected official in Richland County, he was a beacon of integrity and fairness in the local judicial system for more than 30 years. Throughout his esteemed career, he tirelessly upheld the principles of justice and equality, touching countless lives with his wisdom and compassion.
Born on September 11, 1946, to Cornelius Payton and Gertrude Cosby Payton in Canton, Mississippi, his family moved to Mansfield when he was two years old. Judge Payton grew up on the north end of town and enjoyed an active childhood playing with the neighborhood kids, swimming in Toby’s Run, and making bicycles out of junkyard parts.
A proud product of Mansfield City Schools, Judge Payton was heavily involved in sports, specifically football, basketball, and track. He graduated from Malabar High School in 1964 and earned his bachelor of science degree in biology from Ashland University in 1969, where he later received the alumni association’s Special Achievement Award and was inducted into the African American Hall of Fame in 1990.
Judge Payton considered going to medical school, but had a change of heart after attending an intensive study program at Harvard University during the summer of 1967. His passion for justice eventually led him to the Cleveland Marshall College of Law, from which he graduated in 1975.
Before becoming a lawyer, Judge Payton touched lives as a teacher and coach at John Simpson Junior High and Cleveland Heights High School. It was in the halls of these institutions that he first demonstrated his unique blend of discipline, compassion, and commitment.
His rich legal career saw him wear many hats, from earning an internship with the United States Department of Justice to serving as the first director of the Richland County Legal Services Association. His tenure as a Juvenile Court Magistrate further showcased his dedication to the community’s youth.
As a municipal court judge, his heart for reform was evident. Judge Payton was instrumental in implementing numerous programs, including Victim’s Assistance, Intensive Probation Supervision, and the Driver Intervention Program. These initiatives are testaments to his commitment to both justice and rehabilitation.
Judge Payton’s passion for service extended beyond the courtroom. Whether serving on the Board of Directors for MedCentral Health System or as the past president of the Ohio Municipal Judges Association, his leadership and influence were felt deeply.
He was a longtime champion and supporter of the Rehabilitation Services of North Central Ohio and Mansfield Memorial Homes, a member of Prince Hall Lodge Pride of Ohio No. 80, and a lifetime member of the NAACP. He also served Mt. Calvary Baptist Church faithfully as a trustee and treasurer for several decades.
Judge Payton’s high school athleticism continued throughout his life; he enjoyed being a part of the Ebony Sportsmans Club and Park Lanes Bowling Team, was an avid golfer and former member of the Shelby and Westbrook Country clubs. He was also a lifelong fan of the Cleveland Browns and Ohio State Buckeyes.
A loving husband, devoted father, and cherished friend, Judge Payton leaves behind a profound legacy of love and service. The birth of his grandchildren, Jahi and Violet, was a bright spot during his challenging health battle. He is survived by his loving wife, Carol, with whom he recently celebrated 50 years of marriage; their children, daughter Erin (Jonathan) Hamilton of St. Paul, Minnesota, and son Jeffrey (L’Oreal) of Evanston, Illinois; sisters Herscine Adkison of Mansfield, Ohio, and Kay (Randy) Williams of Brandon, Mississippi; brothers Claude (Robin) of San Diego, California, and Cornelius Payton of Jackson, Mississippi; and a host of family and friends. He is preceded in death by his parents; sister, Lucy Woodruff; and three brothers, Hercules Payton Sr., Cornelius Payton “Jr.”, and Earl Spencer Payton.
Jeff, we will miss you immensely. It’s hard to put into words the impact you’ve had on us all. You were the one we turned to for advice, our comfort when we needed clarity—someone we knew we could always count on no matter what. You taught us the importance of faith, family and friendship, as well as the value of hard work. There is now a void in our hearts, but we know it will be filled with memories of your smile, your laugh and your generous spirit for years to come. Thank you for loving us, for holding us close and lifting us up. We promise to make you proud and honor you by living our lives with the love and light that you so wonderfully demonstrated throughout yours. We love you and we find solace in knowing that we will see you again. Until then, rest easy.

Visitation will begin at 9:00am, Masonic Service at 9:30 am and Celebration of Life Service at 11:00 AM Monday, October 23, 2023 at The Oasis of Love, 190 Chester Ave. Interment at Mansfield Cemetery Association. Ministry of Comfort entrusted to MARLAN J. GARY FUNERAL HOME, MANSFIELD CHAPEL, 753 McPherson St. (formerly Williams Funeral Services). To read the complete obituary, order flowers, view video tribute and offer condolences to the Payton Family, visit www.TheChapelofPeace.com

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