YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Mildred Louise Gatewood Payne, who was born in a home without running water and went on to provide stable housing for thousands of families during a career with the Youngstown Metropolitan Housing Authority, passed away in the early hours of Tuesday, November 21, 2017.
Born January 31, 1922, Mildred was the 11th of Mayhue and Ella Current Jackson Gatewood’s 14 children and the first born in Youngstown after the family came north during the Great Migration.
Mildred’s parents quickly established themselves as pillars in the community, helping to found Bailey Park and becoming fixtures at the Sharon Line Improvement Club. Mildred carried on that tradition of service and blazed a path as a college student, community organizer, and supervisor in an era when few women, particularly African-American women, were afforded advanced educational or career opportunities.
Mildred ably balanced her duties as a homemaker on Youngstown’s East Side, where she and her husband Walter A. Payne bought one of the area’s very first homes. There, they raised two sons, Wilford and Walter E., who distinguished themselves at East High, where Mildred helped start the East High Parent Group. That act was reflective of a lifelong commitment to education that began in Mildred’s childhood, extended during her time at Wilberforce University, and continued through her selection as the first African-American president of the Greater Youngstown Area Parent Teacher Associations (PTA). Even into her nineties, Mildred, along with her sister, Ruth, was a regular at school board meetings and other community events.
It was that commitment to service which led Mildred and her husband Walter to band together with neighbors and family to expand McGuffey Centre. McGuffey was envisioned as a recreational center to replace the old house where the community would gather for dances and seminars. In the face of skeptics who said they would never raise enough money to fund a new site, the group, with Mildred and Walter on the Board of Directors, successfully built McGuffey Centre.
With Mildred volunteering daily, the new facility became a haven for area youth needing a place to go after school. Mildred’s work there soon attracted the attention of the Metropolitan Housing Authority, which offered her a management position at Kimmel Brook Homes. During her tenure at the Housing Authority, Mildred held a number of posts, including Housing Manager, Community Services Coordinator, Housing Management Coordinator, Supervisor of Management and Tenant Services, and, at her retirement, Director of Youth Services.
In this last role, Mildred made one of her most significant contributions to the community, developing the Authority’s youth programs, including the Youth Enrichment Life & Learning Program which helped cultivate positive self-image and attitudes among children. The program was recognized by the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials and its participants were invited to Disney World, to meet the National Council of Negro Women, Youngstown Mayor Patrick J. Ungaro, Ohio Congressman James A. Traficant, and Ohio Senator Howard Metzenbaum. Many of the program’s youth were later identified for college scholarships because of their promising academic and personal qualities.
Mildred also fostered community development during her time as a Sunday school teacher at Price Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, as a board member for the Youngstown Humane Society, Mahoning County Polio Foundation and Youngstown Health & Welfare Council, and as one of the founders of the Youngstown section of the National Council of Negro Women. To the end, Mildred’s life was one of service.
That service was documented in Phenomenal Women, a book profiling Mildred and the stories of 11 other accomplished women from the Mahoning Valley. In a quote that exemplified her attitude toward life, Mildred told the authors, “People need to stay involved in their schools and community. Community service is a great asset, to yourself, as well as to the community you’re serving. It really puts you in contact with other people so you know what their lives are like. That’s when you can make a real difference.”
Mildred was preceded in death by her parents, Mayhue and Ella; her husband, Walter A.; her son, Wilford; her brothers, Hugh, Jesse Jewel, Tyree E., McKinley, Wilford H., Edward V., Arlette and Donald H. Gatewood; sisters, Muriel Bailey, Jerusha Terrell, Omega Savoy, and Ella Geraldine Gatewood and son, Wilford.
Mildred is survived by son, Walter E. and daughter-in-law, Elaine; grandson, Michael; sister, Ruth Squire; sister-in-law, Emma Gatewood (Arlette); a host of nieces and nephews; Godsister, Lynn Williams Phillips and special caregiver, Linda Spivey.
Friends may call at the wake on Monday, November 27, 2017 from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m., at the L.E. Black, Phillips & Holden Funeral Home, 1951 McGuffey Road, Youngstown, Ohio.
Funeral services are scheduled for 12:00 Noon on Tuesday, November 28, 2017 at the Third Baptist Church, 1177 Park Hill Drive in Youngstown.
A television tribute will air Tuesday, November 28 at the following approximate times:
6:41 a.m. WYTV and 8:41 a.m. MyYTV and 9:58 a.m. on FOX plus two additional spots throughout the day.