Allison Payne, a nine-time Emmy Award winner who was the face of WGN-TV for two decades and inspired a generation of Black women reporters, died Sept. 1 in her hometown of Detroit, the television station reported Friday. She was 57.
Payne made Chicago her adopted home in 1990 after WGN hired her when she was 25.
“Allison was young, vibrant, sharp,” meteorologist Tom Skilling recalled in a WGN video tribute. “You looked at Alison, you thought here’s a young journalist who has the world before her, and one could only speculate where that incredible career was going to go.”
Payne became a reporting powerhouse for Chicago’s Very Own, covering everything from politics to sports. Her stories took her all around the world, including to the Ivory Coast alongside the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Payne was known for being generous both with her time and resources. Payne once footed the bill for her producer to join her in Washington D.C. for a story when the station declined to fund her trip.
Payne also would routinely buy gifts for her colleagues. Vicky Baftiri, one of Payne’s longtime producers, said she still has some of the Tory Burch purses, wallets and jewelry Payne gifted her. She also said Payne paid for a makeup artist to beautify Baftiri on her wedding day and baby shower.
“She just wanted to show her gratitude, not just by words but by gifts as well,” Baftiri said.
Payne played an influential part in many Chicago reporters and producers’ careers. Her door was always open to aspiring, young journalists, who looked to her for career advice. She routinely would review scripts and offer feedback in a way “no other anchor did,” Baftiri said.
The daughter of an educator, Payne loved sharing her wealth of knowledge so much so that she looked into becoming a journalism professor at a community college in the Motor City after she left Chicago. Payne also started a foundation for students looking to enter the journalism field.
“She loved fearlessly, she mentored not just me but countless interns,” Baftiri said. “She was so instrumental in my career.”
Vicky Baftiri posed with Allison Payne during a trip to Washington D.C. for a story.Provided by Vicky Baftiri
Payne and WGN parted ways in 2011 after she suffered a series of “unfortunate health events,” the station said.
Her cause of death was unknown. Before her departure from Chicago TV news, Payne described suffering a series of mini-strokes. She also opened up publicly about struggles with depression and alcohol dependence.
Skilling, who worked alongside Payne during her 21-year tenure at the station, said Payne was a delight. “She was a kind human being, so sweet,” he said.
Other tributes flooding social media shared Skilling’s sentiment.
Tyra Martin, a senior segment producer at WGN, described Payne as “hilarious, sometimes on purpose and sometimes by accident.”
“She was not fair weather or lukewarm about anything. She was proud of excellence… hers, yours and anyone else’s,” Martin wrote. “And she made those around her want to be the same. She’s the kind of person you didn’t want to let down.”
Reflecting on 20 years at WGN, Payne told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2010: “I hope my work as an anchor has inspired at least one young girl watching me to go after her dreams.”
That’s just what she did for TV host Shaun Robinson.
“Allison Payne was one of my early career role models,” Robinson tweeted. “I remember watching her when I was an aspiring journalist and being so proud that she was from my hometown Detroit. She inspired so many young black girls because we could see ourselves in her.”