Payton Memorial Guestbook Entry

By the time he turned his attention to philanthropy, Robert L. Payton, who died last week in Scottsdale, Arizona, at the age of 84, had already pursued a remarkable career.

He had been a jazz musician, a writer and editor, president of two universities, a State Department official, and ambassador to the African republic of Cameroon. He had also served as a founding trustee of Editorial Projects in Education, the organization that helped start The Chronicle of Higher Education (the publisher of this newspaper).

When he was selected in 1977 as head of the Exxon Education Foundation, Mr. Payton began a preoccupation with “voluntary action for the public good” (as he defined philanthropy) that would last the rest of his lifetime.

But he will be remembered not because of the grants the foundation made during his decade-long tenure but because of the ideas he expressed about how nonprofit leaders and philanthropists should be educated.

Mr. Payton emphasized the importance of obtaining a broad understanding of society, rooted in the liberal arts, as much as professional skills, such as managing and evaluating grants and other kinds of nonprofit activities. (His papers outlining these ideas remain accessible at

Complete tribute published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy (