March 6, 2011

For Maine woman, life's an adventure

Nancy Payne attributes her success – in writing, politics and business – to her love of learning.

By Emma Bouthillette
Staff Writer

FALMOUTH - Nancy Payne sat comfortably in a recliner in her cozy living room Thursday, pointing out different things she has crafted over the years. The centerpiece is a watercolor she painted replicating a photo of her mother holding Payne and her twin sister, Penelope Dwinell, when they were infants.

click image to enlarge

Nancy Payne of Falmouth poses below a portrait that she painted of her mother holding her and her twin sister, Penelope Dwinell. “I am compulsively creative,” she said.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

"I am compulsively creative," Payne said.

But her creative work -- knitted stuffed animals tucked in a basket on the floor, the rug hook cushions for her dining room chairs, a drop-leaf table she crafted with her husband, and small, intricate sculptures of a boy at play -- is not all she has accomplished in her 92 years.

She's also a self-published author of two books, a founding board member of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, a businesswoman, a community volunteer and she's politically active.

Payne said her first book, "Widowing," was one of the most satisfying things she has done. The nonfiction work stemmed from a letter she wrote to a friend who had lost her husband after Payne had been widowed herself.

While her creative work is predominant today, Payne has had an active political life. Her interest was sparked by her husband, Bill Payne, who "talked politics 90 percent of the time," she said. In 1972, she got involved herself, campaigning for Bob Monks' unsuccessful run to unseat U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith.

"That gave me the confidence I wasn't just a stupid housewife," the mother of four said.

When her husband died in 1978, Payne, then 60, said she faced an empty house and no career. She campaigned for an open seat in the Maine Legislature and was elected in 1978 as the first Republican in 16 years to represent Portland.

She served only one term, introducing one bill that would hold parents more accountable for a child's misconduct, which she said was passed but later vetoed by former Gov. Joseph Brennan.

"I decided not to run a second time. I think everybody should have to serve," Payne said. "It is the best education about the state you live in."

Payne went on to serve 10 years with the Maine Republican Committee, ending her formal political career by serving nearly two years as committeewoman for the Republican National Committee, representing Maine.

Tony Payne said he learned a lot from his mother during her campaigning.

"She walked her entire district and ran a by-the-book campaign," he said.

When it was his turn to run for a seat on the Falmouth Town Council a few years ago, Payne, now council chairman, said his mother dragged him door-to-door as well. (Tony Payne also writes a weekly column for the Insight section of the Maine Sunday Telegram.)

Nancy Payne takes every chance she can to learn something new, regardless of the subject. She attributes her success in life to attending the Winsor School for Girls in Boston with her twin, later graduating from Radcliffe College (now part of Harvard University).

While she has slowed down a bit and no longer drives, Payne said as long as her brain is still working she will keep going.

A woman who has seen the transition from horse and buggy to car, transistor radio to television, film to digital, Payne said imagination is what makes life interesting.

"I find adventure in everything," she said. "And I love to laugh."

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:


Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)