Claude Elbert Payne is being remembered for his commitment to the bus and motorcoach industry.
Payne, 78, of Englewood, Florida, died May 22. He is survived by his wife, Cynthia, along with many other family members and friends, according to his obituary.
Colleagues are describing Payne as a true industry icon who dedicated his career to the motorcoach industry.
Bill Torres, founder and co-owner of DC Trails, bought his first Van Hool coach from Payne in 2000.
“We were very close ever since that day,” said Torres, explaining that what made Payne special is the way he looked after his clients. “I don’t know how he managed that, but always was able to get the deal done. He always was able to make us, the customers, happy and also make money for his company. I don’t know anybody else willing to fight for customers as much as he did.”
‘He was a fighter for us’
Torres estimated he bought nearly 160 buses from Payne before he retired in 2015. “He’s sold us quite a few buses. He did it in a manner that he also looked out for his company 100%. He was a fighter for us, and he got it done without jeopardizing his job.”
Payne received numerous awards and industry recognition for his outstanding service and performance.
“A lot of what I know today about the industry, I learned from Claude,” said J. Brian C. Pinckney, regional vice president of sales for ABC Companies’ Southeast Region. “He was one of the biggest mentors and influences in my life. He taught me how to work deals that would make it beneficial for the operator and ABC. The best deal was when it was a good deal for both parties. He will surely be missed!”
One of the highlights of his career was being selected as ABC Companies’ Account Executive of the Year in 2009.
For many years, he was responsible for sales and customer support in the Mid-Atlantic states for ABC’s Southeastern Region, which included Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.
Built relationships that lasted decades
Payne, who spent much of his career at ABC Companies, was among the most respected professionals in the industry and integral to fostering valuable relationships between ABC and operators over the decades, said Roman Cornell, president and chief commercial officer at ABC Bus.
Jimmy Hall met Payne early in his career when he was working for his grandfather at Gallup Bus Lines.
“He was trying to sell us a Van Hool, and my grandfather was old-school MCI because he was unfamiliar with European buses, so that was a hard sell for Claude.”
Over the years, their friendship grew as the two saw each other at industry events.
“It took us about 15 years to buy a Van Hool, but during those years, we developed a friendship,” Hall remembered.
More than just business
In 1996, after Hall started his own bus company, Venture Tours, Inc. with his mother, he told Payne he would buy a new Van Hool when the company brought double-deckers to the U.S. market.
A dozen years later, Payne was able to deliver on that request, selling Hall two double-decker Van Hools when ABC Companies began distributing that model after signing a new contract with Megabus. Since then, Hall has been buying Van Hools. His Virginia Beach, Virginia business now has a fleet of about 46 buses.
“That was a little joke between us,” Hall said.
“At the end of the day, Claude was very special to me and others in the industry. He had been in it so long, since the late ‘80s. Our business relationship was also personal. He always asked about the family. He would check in with me every so often to see how I was doing. I would do the same.”
He spoke to Payne a few weeks before his passing.
“Claude was a very wonderful man to do business with,” Hall said, “because he did really have a big heart.”