Obituary: Ken Payton, 87, was veteran Sacramento Bee reporter

07/01/2014 4:50 PM

07/01/2014 4:51 PM

Ken Payton, a newspaperman and outdoorsman who covered the Lake Tahoe area and Sierra Nevada foothills as a longtime reporter for The Sacramento Bee, died June 21 at 87.

Mr. Payton, who bicycled solo from his Citrus Heights home to St. Augustine, Fla., at 82, died after a recent muscle disease left him unable to swallow food, his daughter Susanne said. His health had declined since his wife of 61 years, Dolores, died last February.

A handsome, physically imposing man with a quiet and professional manner, Mr. Payton was a dedicated and dependable reporter for more than 25 years at The Bee. He started in 1966, when McClatchy Newspapers blanketed Northern California with stringers and reporters, and worked as the paper’s full-time staff writer at the north shore of Lake Tahoe.

“He was a good journalist, worked hard and never complained,” former Bee reporter Jon Engellenner said.

By 1977, Mr. Payton had joined The Bee newsroom in Sacramento but continued covering news and feature stories in foothill communities. In addition to reporting on environmental issues and small-town politics, he wrote a moving story in 1987 with colleague Steve Gibson about Jesse Quinn, an 87-year-old Auburn man who was charged in an assisted-suicide case that drew widespread attention.

Mr. Payton spoke with Quinn, who was in anguish after leaving a .22-caliber revolver on a bedside table at the request of his 74-year-old wife, Margie, who was seriously ill and bedridden for two years:

“Don’t use it unless you really need it,” Jesse Quinn said he told his wife.

“I may have to use it if the pain doesn’t go away,” she replied, the husband told detectives.

“That’s no way to do it,” Jesse Quinn said he told her. “But she said, ‘I got to do it,’ ” he recalled later in the day, his voice cracking and his face streaked with tears.

“I’ve been crying buckets all day,” he said. “She was a fine woman, but she had a very tough life.”

Kenneth George Payton was born April 24, 1927, and raised in Huntington Park near Los Angeles. He left high school before his senior year to join the Navy in World War II and spent three years as a 6-foot-2 sailor aboard a submarine.

“He said that if he’d been an inch taller, he wouldn’t have fit,” his sister Carolyn Pfrimmer said.

After leaving the Navy, he finished high school in Montana and earned a journalism degree from University of Montana in Missoula. He was a sportswriter and photographer at a newspaper in Waterloo, Iowa, and worked as a reporter at the Great Falls Tribune in Montana before joining The Bee.

Mr. Payton, who retired in 1992, was often private and reserved in groups but active and adventurous outdoors. In addition to hiking, mountain climbing and skiing as a young man, he played golf and enjoyed boating, motorcycling and taking motor home trips.

An avid bicyclist, he belonged to many cycling groups and followed up his cross-country solo ride to Florida with a group ride in Montana.

“He was always into keeping fit,” his daughter said.

Mr. Payton was predeceased by his son Daniel in 1986 and his brother, Donald. In addition to his daughter and sister, he is survived by another son, Kenneth; one brother, Richard; and two grandchildren. No service is planned.

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