“Inspirational,” “generous,” and “gracious of heart” — all words used to describe Pamela Payne Lewis, an unforgettable educator, wife and mother.
Mrs. Payne Lewis, 80, of the Longwood of Oakmont neighborhood in Plum, died Friday after a lengthy battle with bone cancer. She will be remembered for her love of family, singing and music and for her skill as a teacher and mentor.
Mrs. Payne Lewis retired last year after a long career teaching public speaking and presentation skills to graduate students at the Carnegie Mellon University Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy.
She was a very popular teacher, who received top ratings from students.
“During the first year of faculty evaluations, she was rated the most outstanding teacher,” said her husband, Gordon H. Lewis, who also retired from the university last year as an associate professor of public policy and management. “She won the second year and she won again the third year. Eventually, the dean decided to give it to the next-highest person.
“He was asked why and said, ‘because if we don’t, Pam Lewis would always get it.’”
Mrs. Payne Lewis was born in Liberty, N.Y., and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Middlebury College in Vermont. She received a master’s degree in English in 1961 from Stanford University, where she enchanted her husband-to-be with a singing performance.
“We met in 1959,” said Mr. Lewis, who was then a senior at Stanford. “She was leading the singing for the Methodist College Youth Group and I went to hear the speaker that evening. We didn’t actually meet each other that night, but I saw her a couple of days later in the library. She said hello and that led to about two hours of conversation in the library.”
Because of her busy schedule, it took three weeks and as many requests from Mr. Lewis to get a first date.
“We went out and had a long dinner and talked and talked and talked,” he said. “I fell in love with her.”
The couple married June 21, 1961, and Mrs. Payne Lewis began teaching eighth grade English at a school in Portola Valley, Calif.
“It was a rural school and still had hitching posts outside for students who rode ponies to school. It was very bucolic.”
After Mr. Lewis received a position at Yale University, the couple relocated to New Haven, Conn.
Mrs. Payne Lewis went to work at Southern Connecticut University, where she taught English to graduate students until 1967, when her husband got an offer to teach at Carnegie Mellon.
The couple settled in Squirrel Hill for a time and Mrs. Payne Lewis sought voice lessons at Duquesne University.
“After she’d taken about three lessons, the teacher asked her if she could begin teaching there,” Mr. Lewis said.
While working at Duquesne in the early 1980s, Mrs. Payne Lewis earned a master’s degree in fine arts and a doctorate degree in voice and speech from Carnegie Mellon.
She also began taking voice lessons at the University of Pittsburgh, all while raising her two sons, Peter and Kevin.
“She had ID cards from three different universities in her pocket,” her husband said.
“She was an inspiration to my brother and me,” said Kevin Lewis, of Winthrop, Maine. “She worked so hard on her dissertation, her work, and she was a fabulous mom. I’ll miss everything about her.”
Throughout her life, Mrs. Payne Lewis — a mezzo-soprano vocalist — was fond of singing and often performed with groups such as the choir of the Church of the Redeemer in Squirrel Hill and the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh, where she served as president.
“She sang for the love of music,” Kevin Lewis said of his mother.
Her husband said he will miss his wife’s selfless nature the most.
“I will miss the fact that she was always a loving person and mindful of other people,” he said. “When we moved to Longwood at Oakmont four years ago, the first thing she did was to create a group called ‘Transitions’ for women to talk once a month.”
Along with her sons, Kevin and Peter, of Charleston, S.C., she is survived by three brothers: Deming L. Payne, John A. Payne and Timothy C. Payne; and by five grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Church of the Redeemer, 5700 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill, followed by interment at Homewood Cemetery.
A memorial service is planned at Longwood at Oakmont on May 20.
Memorial contributions may be made in Ms. Payne Lewis’s name to: Presbyterian SeniorCare Foundation, 1215 Hulton Road, Oakmont, Pa., 15139, designated to the Keyboard Fund.
Janice Crompton: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1159.