AFTRA’s first woman national president served for two terms, 1959 — 60 and 1960 — 61. Payne was also the Iron Woman of radio, playing Ma Perkins in that popular radio soap opera for 27 years — from 1933 to 1960 — without missing a performance. She was kept a trade secret for years, since she was only 23 when she first portrayed “America’s mother of the air.” When the series took its final bow, Payne remarked, “They told me when I started that it wouldn’t be permanent.”
A founding member of AFRA in 1937, she began her union service early as president of the Chicago Local from 1938 — 44 and president of the New York Local from 1958 — 59.
She was the first president of the George Heller Memorial Foundation and George Heller Memorial Gold Card No. 6 was presented to her in absentia at the AFTRA National Convention held in Miami Beach in 1962, in recognition of her devotion to AFRA and AFTRA as well as her renowned diplomacy at the bargaining table. She was beloved by the membership and industry alike for her humanitarian efforts as the chair of the Midwest Region of the United Theatrical War Activities Committee. In 1975, Payne was honored as AFTRA Woman of the Year. She remained an AFTRA National Board member until her death on Feb. 9, 1977.
She was inducted into Radio Hall of Fame in 1988.