Euless, Texas was first settled in about 1867 as a small farming community in North Central Texas. The City is located midway between Dallas and Fort Worth Texas, just west of DFW International Airport. It was incorporated in 1953 and at the time of the 2000 U.S. Census had a population of 46,005. The City of Euless encompasses approximately 16.3 square miles. (42.1 KM2)
Jimmy C. Payton was born on April 18, 1930. At the time of this interview he was Chairman of the Calloway Cemetery Board of Trustees. Mr. Payton has been a very active member of the community.
Betty Fuller is a long-time resident of Euless, Texas. At the time of this interview she was a member of the Euless Historical Preservation Committee responsible for collecting narrative interviews. She was Chairperson of the Euless Historical Preservation Committee from 2005-2010.
Gillian Broadway is the granddaughter of James Horace and Betty Fuller. At the time of this interview she was attending the Episcopal School of Dallas.
Betty Fuller: I am Betty Fuller, representing the Euless Historical Preservation Committee. I have Jimmy Payton with me whom my granddaughter, Gillian Broadway, and I are interviewing today.
It is a lovely spring day of 2011. We are at the home of Jimmy Charles and Helen Payton. My granddaughter, Gillian Broadway, has a school assignment to interview someone important. We chose Jimmy Payton, a distant cousin of her grandfather, James Fuller. The interview will also be included in the Euless Historical Preservation Committee Museum research files.
The Fuller family came to Texas from Coffee County, Tennessee in the 1870’s. Bedford County, Tennessee was split into 2 parts in 1836. The new county was named Coffee County. The Fullers lived in Coffee County. The man teaching at the Coffee County Redden Chapel School, near Redden’s Chapel Methodist Church where the Fullers were members, was brought to Euless by Jimmy’s great grandfather, William Nelson Moody Fuller, to teach. His name was John C. Calhoun. He taught for two years in Euless and later became President of the University of Texas, Austin.
Betty Fuller: I would like you to glance at this information about your grandfather.
Jimmy Payton: (reading) The Masonic picture that you mention here, I don’t have the original, but I have the copy of it.
Gillian Broadway: When and where were you born, and were you born at home or in a hospital?
Jimmy Payton: I was born at home in Venus, Texas - that’s in Johnson County - in 1930 on April the 18th. Until I was about six months old, we lived there. My mother was raised in Euless, but my father was raised down south of here, near Midlothian. When I was six months old we moved to Euless. I’ve lived here the rest of my life. My birthday is April 18, 1930.
Gillian Broadway: Tell us about your childhood memories.
Jimmy Payton: Oh, we were a very small community. I was raised as a part of a big family. My mother was the youngest of ten children. Many of her brothers and sisters lived in Euless and had large families: two, three, four children. They were all close by, so our cousins grew up with us. Your grandpa was not a first cousin, but he was a second cousin. Your great grandfather and my mother were first cousins.
Betty Fuller: James’ grandfather and your grandfather (talking to Jimmy Payton) were brothers and they shared the same great grandfather.
Jimmy Payton: That’s right, so it was a small community. Everybody knew each other and I don’t remember anything in particular, except we didn’t have much money. We were all poor. We didn’t know it because everybody was poor.
Gillian Broadway: Did you have any interesting family traditions or aspects of your family life that bring up memories or stories for you?
Jimmy Payton: I don’t think that we had anything that would stand out. We always did family things at Christmas…dinners and family gatherings at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Those were our gathering times and we still do that. We originally did that at my mother and father’s house. I was the older of two children and so when mother and daddy passed away we continued to do it here until my brother’s family and my family started spreading out, so now it’s down to just our family, our children and grandchildren.
Betty Fuller: (talking to Jimmy Payton) Your great grandfather was Mood Fuller, James’ great grandfather. He gave the land for the first school in Euless. It was the first one that wasn’t in the Grange Hall. It was the first free standing school. We have an aerial view of it on the City website. It was on the southeast corner of Cullum and Highway 10. He gave 5/10 of an acre to build that little one room school. I have a list of some of the people who attended school there.
Jimmy Payton: I didn’t know that. I knew Mr. Huffman gave the land for the First Methodist Church on Huffman (now Main Street.)
Betty Fuller: We have photos of the school. Mr. Calhoun was brought from Tennessee to teach at that school and became President of the University of Texas.
Jimmy Payton: While we’re in that era – in 1886, the Calloway family donated land for the Calloway Cemetery, which your grandmother (talking to Gillian) and I serve on the Board at this time. My great grandfather Mood Fuller and John Huffman were two of the original trustees and Bill Byers and I, who are great-grandsons, both serve on the Board now. Betty, who is a great granddaughter-in-law, serves on the Board and David Massey is also on the Board. He is a descendant of Mr. Huffman. So there’s still a lot of history in the community.
Betty Fuller: Mood Fuller’s brother, David’s great grandfather Thomas Fuller, was the Euless Postmaster 1895-1910.
Gillian Broadway: What are your siblings’ names?
Jimmy Payton: I only had one brother. His name was Jerry, Marshall Jerry. He passed away two years ago. He was eight years younger than I.
Gillian Broadway: Do you remember your grandparents?
Jimmy Payton: Yes, on both sides. My grandfather was very active in the Euless Methodist Church. My grandfather Fuller lived here in Euless. In fact, right across the street over here on Harwood Road, across Main Street, was his farm - a one hundred sixty acre farm. It was on the corner of Harwood Road and Main Street. Now it’s filled with houses and apartment complexes. I can remember he drove an old Model T Ford. He would come to the grocery store that was operated by his sons, Homer and Warren Fuller, but he and his family lived over on the corner of Harwood Road and Main Street. He died in 1936 and the woman that I knew as my grandmother was named Nancy. She was actually my mother’s step-mother. My mother’s birth mother died when my mother was a baby and my grandfather married Nancy Wiser.
Betty Fuller: For which Fuller Wiser Road was named.
Jimmy Payton: What was her maiden name, do you remember? She was married to a Wiser. My uncle married her daughter, which made ah, a real jumble. My grandfather Payton and his wife lived in Midlothian. It was a real trip when we went to visit them because it took all day to get to Midlothian. That was about 40 miles. He operated a grocery store in Midlothian until his death in 1941.
Betty Fuller: You talked about your grandfather having a Ford, what model did you say it was?
Jimmy Payton: a Model T.
Betty Fuller: We have a picture of your mother, Jennie Fuller Payton, as a young girl, standing on the running board. Little did she suspect that her son would be one of the most prestigious Ford dealers in Tarrant County.
Gillian Broadway: Do you know any interesting stories about your grandparents?
Jimmy Payton: I’ll tell you one interesting story about him. My grandfather drove about 10 miles an hour in that Model T. It was about 2 miles from his house to the grocery store and one day he came to the store. I had a cousin named Bobby Fuller who was my age. The Model T’s had a high back of the front seat. Bobby and I crawled in the back and laid down on the floor board and he didn’t know we were there until we got home. He had to turn around and take us back to tell our parents we were going to spend the night because they had no telephones. I remember that vividly. I got a little talking to about that by my mother. At the time, I thought they were ancient and they were old for the time, like sixty-five, but today they wouldn’t be considered old really.
Betty Fuller: People may or may not know that Jimmy’s great grandfather had the reputation of running the Methodist Church. The man that Mood brought from Tennessee (John C. Calhoun) to teach at the school wrote in his autobiography after he became President of the University of Texas-Austin that he came to Texas because of Mood Fuller. He wrote that Mood was in church one Sunday and asked the members to bless and praise the Lord for the men in the church. Suddenly, an old lady in the church jumped up and said, “Well what about, while you are praising the Lord for all the men who have done so much for our church you better praise the Lord for the women because, if it weren’t for the women, there wouldn’t be any children to have more members for the church.” John Calhoun put that in his autobiography.
Jimmy Payton: At the time I was growing up, my grandfather, J.R. Fuller, wasn’t all that active. He was past his active age. I remember when I was six years old he passed away, so I just remember him attending and sitting over to the pastor’s right in the old church you have pictures of. It was built in 1917 and he was one of the ones who helped build it.
Betty Fuller: It had a basement. I belonged to the Church across the street because I was a Baptist. We Baptist had B.T.U. at night …
Jimmy Payton: You all needed it though … (laughter)
Betty Fuller: (laughter) We used to say, “Those Methodist over there are playing forty two in the basement of their church” … (laughter)
Jimmy Payton: Playing forty two with dominoes …(laughter)
Gillian Broadway: Your great grandparents, are they all from Texas or …
Jimmy Payton: No, they all came here from other places. The Payton’s came here from … actually; they go back to Tennessee also. They came through Arkansas and Alabama to Texas and my grandmother on the Payton side had some Indian blood. My grandfather was English on the Fuller side, and your grandmother (Betty) can tell you much more than I can. As I understand it, the Fullers in Great Britain were weavers of cloth and we came from Great Britain. Somehow they got to Tennessee and from Tennessee to Texas. I haven’t done the extensive work that Betty has in following genealogy.
Betty Fuller: Your great grandmother (to Jimmy), Mary Keeling, died in 1883. Mood married again in 1885 and I have the original marriage license to Mood’s second wife. I also have a dish made by the English Keeling family that I got in Tennessee. They made ceramic dishes and cheese boards. The bottom of the dish has the name of the Keelings on it. The Keelings, Jimmy’s great grandmother, were a little wealthier than the Fullers. Prior to the Civil War the Keelings were owners of railroad stock.
Jimmy Payton: I did not know that.
Gillian Broadway: She knows a lot. What did your father and grandfather do for a living?
Jimmy Payton: My grandfather was a farmer. I think he raised produce … cantaloupes, tomatoes, that sort of thing. My uncles did the same later, but they also dairied and raised cattle.
Betty Fuller: There was cotton, too, because I have a photo of your mother on a fence and there is a cotton field in the background.
Jimmy Payton: There could have very well been. My other grandfather was in the grocery business as I’ve mentioned to you. Most of my life when I knew him, my father was in the automobile business. He did automotive repairs in the beginning, and then he transitioned into selling automobiles. That’s how I got into the automobile business when I graduated from high school. I started college in Arlington at what was then North Texas Agricultural College and is now the University of Texas at Arlington. I worked for him washing cars and cleaning up used cars while I was going to school. That finally became my vocation.
Betty Fuller: Jennie and her sister, Ruth, ran a clothes washateria, would you tell about that?
Jimmy Payton: They did work together. My mother’s name was Virginia or “Aunt Jennie.” She worked outside the household quite a bit. My first job was in the field working with her when I was ten, eleven, twelve years old. We would work for one of my uncles, Thurston Whitener in particular, and he raised tomatoes. Mother and her sister Ruth worked there … they gathered tomatoes in handle baskets. My job was to carry the full baskets out to the end of the row and bring empty baskets back to them. Then she and her sister Ruth and some other ladies in the community started a cafeteria in the Euless School. They cooked lunch for the students for a number of years. They also owned and operated what we called at that time the washateria. It was different from today where we have automatic washers and dryers …. they used old washing machines with wringers. They had a big tub that you washed the clothes in and then you put the clothes through cranked wringers to wring the water out. People would come there and use their washing machines to wash their own clothes or people would bring clothes there and mother and her sister Ruth would wash the clothes for them and charge them for washing their clothes. Betty may not know this, but one of my other aunts, Edna Deacon, her husband owned the B & D Mills in Grapevine. They processed wheat, corn and oats into feed that was sacked in hundred pound sacks for dairymen to feed their cows. Edna and Bill Deacon, who lived where the Euless Target store is now located, also had a hatchery where they hatched baby chickens. In the spring time, or starting in the late winter, people would order those chickens from all over Texas. The mills were on the Cotton Belt Railroad. They would get orders for 25 or 50 baby chickens and they had cardboard boxes they would put the baby chickens in and then ship them in a railway car to other places such as Wichita Falls, Graham, any place the Cotton Belt Railroad ran. My mother also worked for her sister Edna. Aunt Edna ran the hatchery. Uncle Bill ran the feed mill. Mother worked with my aunt during the spring when the baby chicks were hatching... I remember that on Saturdays when she was working, a big event would be when my dad closed his garage where he repaired his cars and he and I would get in a car and go to Grapevine, which was seven miles away, and pick up Mother at the hatchery after she got off work. We would go to a little hamburger place and have a hamburger. My goodness, we would go to a picture show which cost ten cents. That was a big event!
Betty Fuller: Tell us about your great grandfather.
Jimmy Payton: You know more about him than I do, I really don’t know much about him.
Betty Fuller: The person for whom Euless is named was Elisha Adam Euless. He had a cotton gin right off Main Street here in Euless. He was elected sheriff of all of Tarrant County. During his tenure, they built the courthouse that sits in Fort Worth. That was in 1888 if I remember correctly. He served two terms, 1888 to 1892 and then 1892 to 1896…
Jimmy Payton: There’s an interesting story there. Originally, the county seat for Tarrant County was at Birdville, so they had an election because Fort Worth was growing faster than Birdville. That’s two separate towns that were very close together, about 3 or 4 miles. That was a long way back then, and they had an election as to whether to keep the courthouse in Birdville or move the county seat to Fort Worth. The people in Fort Worth went in and cleaned out the saloons and took all the people who were there and bought them all a drink if they would go and vote for Fort Worth to be the county seat. They took them in wagons to vote at Birdville. That’s the way they won the election.
Betty Fuller: It’s written in a document I have, Jimmy is telling the truth. What I wanted to tell you about his great grandfather, who happens to be your great-great-great grandfather, is that when Elisha Adam Euless was elected Sheriff, Jimmy’s great grandfather, his brother and Mr. Trigg bought the cotton gin. I have the news article about when it burned to the ground. The Arlington Journal shows that they had owned it for about two months. It had to have a fire to heat water because steam was used to run the machine that made it turn. Shortly after they bought the cotton gin, somebody apparently let the steam get too hot or forgot to turn it off one night. Twenty-five bales of cotton belonging to his great grandfather and his great grandfather’s brother were stored there and went up in flames. They never replaced the cotton gin.
Gillian Broadway: Can you tell us anything about your home life?
Jimmy Payton: Well, we lived like everybody else. We had a cook stove operated with kerosene. It had burners and you lit the kerosene burner. It was pretty flimsy, most of them were. A lot of people only cooked on wood stoves. We had kerosene … that was more modern. We heated the house with either wood or coal. It must have been 1939 or 1940 when we got a butane gas system. That was wonderful! I will tell you this story … the first job I had outside of working the field or working on a farm was when I was 13 years old. My cousin, Ruth’s oldest son, was named Ernest Millican, Jr. He went into the Army in 1943. He had been the custodian of the church. There were really not many young men around then. They were all in the service. I got the job at the church. My pay was $12 a month. I got $3 a week. In the winter, one of my jobs was to go and start a fire early in the morning before Sunday school at ten o’clock. The sermon was at eleven o’clock. I had to go start the fire. There was a big ol’ coal burning stove down in the basement and another one up on the first floor. About the time I’d get the stove to light in the sanctuary and then go down to the basement and light that one, I’d come back up and the upstairs stove would be out and I’d have to restart it. Then I’d go down and restart the other one. It was cold. Finally, we got a butane system in the church. I’d go out there and it had a pilot light. I’d push that red button and that sucker would light and that was the greatest thing in the world for me when I got to use that butane system! At home, we had one light bulb in the room hanging down from a wire, just a bare bulb and no air conditioning of any kind. We had a radio and I can remember coming home and listening to Jack Armstrong or the Lone Ranger on radio. That was our entertainment. It was much like everybody else. We had simple things that entertained us. In the summer time, we didn’t have little league and all of those things. We organized our own softball team and went from one merchant to another and asked, “Would you sponsor me?” and for 7 or 8 dollars they bought uniforms that had their name on the back. You wore that uniform when you played on the Euless team. We played teams like Bedford, Hurst and Grapevine, but we basically organized ourselves with the help of the merchants. It wasn’t something that - you will understand this later when you start paying taxes - but it wasn’t an entitlement. We didn’t feel like the City or the taxpayers owed us that. We did it ourselves. That’s one of the big, big things that I see different in our society today from the society that I grew up in. We did those things for ourselves. We didn’t have a hospital in our community. We actually didn’t have a hospital within an hour or an hour and a half, by horse (laughter.) No, we had cars by then, but they weren’t very fast cars and we didn’t have very good roads. So we did a lot of things by ourselves. My mother canned food in jars every summer. You name it and basically we raised it ourselves in our gardens or someone else in the community. Green beans, tomatoes, beets, even potatoes … we canned corn, English peas, black-eyed peas and in the winter that’s what we ate. It was not fresh. We did not have frozen food. In fact, I have an old fashioned ice box and we bought ice every other day – twenty five pounds of ice – which we put in the wooden ice box in one big ice block. It kept it; well … it almost kept food from spoiling. One of my jobs was to empty the water out of the pan that went underneath the block of ice. Some people had a drain that went right down under the house. We did a lot of things different than what we do today.
Gillian Broadway: Where did you attend elementary and high school?
Jimmy Payton: I attended elementary and high school on Main Street in south Euless although I did graduate from Amon Carter Riverside in Fort Worth, but I attended Euless all the rest of my first eleven years. We only went eleven years in those days. They changed in between the time I went from 5th grade to 6th grade, the years were extended from eleven years to twelve and I got double promoted. I went from 5th grade to 7th grade. I didn’t go twelve years but they extended the number of years to twelve.
Betty Fuller: That happened to me, too. I skipped 3rd grade and went to 4th.
Jimmy Payton: So, after Euless, I went to NTAC which was a junior college. I got my Associate’s Degree from there. Then I went from there to SMU. I got my Bachelor’s Degree at SMU. I have a major in government and a minor in history. My plan was to go to law school, but between my junior and senior year I got married. Helen Beseda and I got married and I finished my senior year at night school at SMU. I decided that I was doing better in the automobile business than I could be doing as a first year practicing lawyer, so I did not enter law school.
Betty Fuller: What year did you and Helen marry?
Jimmy Payton: October 19th, 1950.
Gillian Broadway: So what was your first official job?
Jimmy Payton: Actually, I worked in high school. I sacked groceries in a grocery store that belonged to the Fuller Brothers in Euless. I stocked grocery shelves, checked out people. This might be interesting to you; back then, we didn’t have forty hour work weeks, five days a week. I went to work at 6:30 in the morning and got off at 6:30 in the afternoon and worked six days a week. I made $18 dollars a week … that’s $3 dollars a day. I did that for three years. In the summer time I worked full time and during school I went to work when I got off school and worked until we closed.
Betty Fuller: How old were you when you went to work in the car business?
Jimmy Payton: I was 17.
Betty Fuller: And that was for whom?
Jimmy Payton: Bob Cooke, who was the Ford dealer in Arlington. I worked with my dad. He was the used car manager. I graduated from high school in June and went to work there and started college in September in 1947.
Betty Fuller: How did you meet Helen?
Jimmy Payton: Well, that’s interesting. That ties in with what I just told you. I was working at the grocery store and her mother and dad lived down in the Sowers community. She went to school in Irving. Her family came to shop at the grocery store and I saw her. I did not know her. I knew a young lady that went to school in Irving, named Barbara Cannon, who lived next door to your grandmother. So I asked Barbara ... by then we had phones Betty, my goodness ….
Betty Fuller: You did, we didn’t. We never had a phone until I was in college.
Jimmy Payton: I asked Barbara what her name was. Barbara arranged a blind date and that’s how I met her.
Gillian Broadway: Where and when were you married?
Jimmy Payton: We married in Irving on October 19, 1950 at the Rectory of the Catholic Church there. Her parents were Catholic. At that time, you couldn’t be married in the Catholic Church if one of the partners was not Catholic. We had to discuss that. I was not going to change my religion and, because of her family, she wanted to be married there. The Priest married us in the Rectory. However, Helen has been attending our church for about forty years.
Gillian Broadway: How long have you been married?
Jimmy Payton: Will be sixty-one years in October.
Gillian Broadway: What was your first car?
Jimmy Payton: My first car was a 1935 Ford. In 1947, my dad furnished me that car. That was right after I graduated from high school. The car was twelve years old and it was pretty well used up. It had mechanical brakes instead of hydraulic brakes … it was a shift, of course. Shortly thereafter, a friend of Dad’s had been buying cars in Michigan, that was right after the war and cars were still very scarce and hard to get – and he came back from Detroit with a 1940 model Ford Coupe and my dad bought it for me. I didn’t have the ’35 Ford very long, about six months. That coupe was the last car he got me. In fact, I didn’t own a car for all those other years because I was furnished a car from the dealership.
Betty Fuller: What do you know about that log that’s on the back porch of the Fuller House? Bill Byers says it was from the Wiser place on Fuller Wiser Road. The Nancy Wiser that raised Jennie Payton, your mom, the Wiser family?
Jimmy Payton: Nothing. I don’t know anything about that log.
Betty Fuller: Have we talked about the Depression?
Gillian Broadway: Do you remember anything about your life during the Depression? I know that Grandmother always says that people in Euless never really knew anything interesting because everything was always safe about this community.
Jimmy Payton: Well, that’s pretty much correct. I really didn’t know what the Depression was because I never knew anything but a depression (laughter). If you haven’t experienced anything else, how do you? If you haven’t experienced sorrow, how do you know what joy is? You know that sort of thing. But I know we didn’t have much. I went to school many days with a pasteboard cutout to put in my shoe because the shoes had holes in them, because we didn’t have money to have them sewn. I had two pairs of overalls to start the school year with and I wore them the whole school year, one pair was to wear while the other pair was getting washed. We did have a washing machine because we had electricity, but probably fifty percent of homes didn’t have electricity. I experienced the Depression but I didn’t understand that I was in a depression. I’ll tell you what I did understand … that was the war, World War II. It came during our teen years which should have been more carefree and more fun but it wasn’t because we didn’t have tires and we didn’t have gasoline. We had very little. That was the same with everybody. I remember when I worked at the grocery store … you could not buy meat unless you had a meat stamp. Stamps were needed for canned goods, shoes, tires. Everything was rationed. It was allotted based on the size of your family. Now, we didn’t understand that the Depression was bad because the war was worse.
Betty Fuller: Were you in the war, Jimmy?
Jimmy Payton: No, I wasn’t in the war. When it ended, I was 15 years old.
Betty Fuller: The Masonic Lodge – William Nelson Moody (Mood) Fuller has a Masonic emblem on his gravestone. Jimmy, can you tell about your grandpa and the Masons?
Jimmy Payton: I have received a 50 year pin from the Masonic Lodge. That’s the Estelle Masonic Lodge. Then you go from there to the Commandary and there is a 50 year pin for that. Then you go to the Knights Templar. There is a 50 year pin for the Moslah Shrine Temple. I have a fifty year certificate from each of those. The one that Gillian Broadway’s grandfather, James, is a member of is the Estelle Lodge where I am a past master, which means that you ran the thing for a year or two. I also served as the District Deputy Grand Master for the Grand Lodge of Texas. That’s my Masonic affiliation.
Betty Fuller: I went to Tennessee and tried to get the Masonic history of Moody Fuller.
Jimmy Payton: He was also a member of Woodmen of the World, I believe.
Betty Fuller: Maybe he didn’t join the Masonic Lodge until he got to Euless.
Gillian Broadway: Can you tell us about your professional life?
Jimmy Payton: I spent 16 years working for the Ford dealer in Arlington, Bob Cooke. He sold that dealership in 1966 and, at that time, I formed a partnership with a gentleman named Leon Wright and we bought the Ford dealership in Grapevine. It was called Payton-Wright Ford. Mr. Wright was the sales manager of the Grapevine store and he wanted to be a part of that dealership. He was a 25% owner and I was 75% owner of that dealership. He retired after 25 years, in 1991, and didn’t live much longer after that. Jim and Nancy, my children, worked with me in that dealership. My dad and I worked together for 40 years at Bob Cooke and at Payton-Wright. When I bought the dealership, he came to Grapevine with me and worked with me there. Actually, he never retired, but he slowed down. After Mr. Wright’s retirement, I formed a partnership with another person that had worked for me, named Terry Rich. Terry and I were partners until September, 1998. Nancy and Jim, my children, decided that they had no desire to become the Ford dealer in Grapevine, Texas. Both having worked there for over 15 years, they had seen the time and commitment that it required and the increasingly difficult business and regulatory climate. So, we sold the dealership in 1998. We currently have an interest in the Ford dealership in Ennis … Ennis Ford. I would say that, the thing for which I guess I’m most proud is that we not only sold cars to individuals but we sold them to their children and grandchildren as well. For example, your grandparents, Gillian, my dad sold your great grandfather, Horace Fuller, automobiles and I have continued to sell your grandmother Betty and grandfather James automobiles. We have hundreds of families like that. Depending on what time we’re talking about, we didn’t always have that many employees, but the 150 to 175 people that worked for us – we were able to provide for them a good place to work and a good place for them to earn a living for their families. While we were doing this, we were able to make contributions in other ways to the community.
Betty Fuller: You were president of something for an automobile organization in the whole United States…
Jimmy Payton: I served as president of two organizations. First, there’s an organization in Texas called the Texas Automobile Dealers Association and I was president of that association in 1978. There were about 1,400 dealers in that one. Then, I was president of the National Automobile Dealers Association in 1988. There were about 20,000 dealers in it. That’s what Betty is talking about … I was active in those two organizations.
Betty Fuller: Tell us about your participation in the Trinity River Authority and being Mayor of Euless.
Jimmy Payton: I was elected Mayor in 1954. I had just graduated from SMU. There was a void (laughter) at the top and some people came and asked me if I would run and I agreed. It was an experience. We were trying to get ordinances and regulations set up for the city. Euless was a very small place. We had a company that came into town – I won’t name the company – but they were building houses that were substandard. They weren’t good houses. They didn’t have any plumbing, they were just shells. Bar ditches, gravel streets. The Police Chief had told me that most of our problems were coming from that area, so we passed an ordinance that precluded them from building any more houses in the subdivision that they had bought. The Sam Mills property, was near where I own my property. They sued the City and they sued me personally. I found myself sitting in court in the Tarrant County Courthouse. I was 24 years old and getting sued by this big corporation and we lost, but in the meantime, while this thing was working its way through the courts, we passed another ordinance that was valid. They only got to build one more house. We were able to impose our will, but it took a toll. That was enough experience for me so I politely excused myself, but I did serve as Municipal Court Judge for another 9 years after that…
Betty Fuller: 1954 was the year James and I got married. That was a long time ago.
Jimmy Payton: And you mentioned Trinity River Authority. In 1973, I was appointed to the Trinity River Authority by Governor Dolph Briscoe. He was a Democrat. Then I was appointed for a second term by Governor Bill Clements who was a Republican…
Betty Fuller: First Republican Governor since the Reconstruction. Civil War.
Jimmy Payton: I was appointed to the Trinity River Authority a third time by another Democrat, Governor Mark White. I don’t think today that I could be appointed by both a Republican and a Democrat. Another appointment I’m proud of is this one by Governor George W. Bush…
Betty Fuller: You know they lived down the street from Gillian Broadway and our daughter Deborah’s family before he was Governor of Texas.
Jimmy Payton: I served 16 years – 3 terms appointed by 3 different governors - on the Trinity River Authority and served as chairman of that board. Governor Bush appointed me to the Texas Motor Vehicle Commission; I served 6 years on that commission.
Betty Fuller: How many years did you serve on the Texas Automobile Dealers Association?
Jimmy Payton: I served on the board for 12 years and a one year term as President in 1978.
Betty Fuller: You were on the Alumni Association at SMU.
Jimmy Payton: I served as President of the Alumni Association in 1981 or 82 … I stepped down from the Trinity River Authority when I started my work at NADA, the National Automobile Dealers Association, because I knew that it was going to take some extra time … but in 1989 my father passed away at Harris Methodist HEB hospital. He had been in and out of that hospital for a year and a half with cancer and treatment. He died there. They took extremely good care of him, were very compassionate, very helpful to the family at that time. Shortly after he passed away, a friend of mine, Bill Byers, came to me and said, “If I nominated you to be a trustee for the hospital would you accept?” That was 1989. I said, “Billy, I really just finished my term as President of the National Automobile Dealers Association,” and I was kind of tired. He said, “I’m reaching term limit, seven or nine years are the term limit.” So I said I would do it. One thing led to another and I served as trustee for Harris Methodist HEB, chaired that board, then served as trustee for the Harris Methodist Health System. I chaired that board when we merged with Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas and Arlington Memorial in 1997. I will have completed, at the end of this year, 22 years with that hospital system, which is now Texas Health Resources. I also served on the Harris Methodist Foundation for 9 years.
Betty Fuller: What can you tell us about the Methodist Church?
Jimmy Payton: When I was custodian, I mowed the lawn with a push mower. What I do now is the food pantry. Yes, I’m pleased to have been a member of that church since I was 8 years old, that’s 73 years. I guess I’ve served in just about every area…
Betty Fuller: How old are you, Jimmy?
Jimmy Payton: 81. I’ve served in just about every capacity that there is, from teaching a Sunday school class to founding the Harmony Class. I taught it for 25 years. I served as chairman of the Board of Trustees…
Gillian Broadway: What is the name of the church?
Jimmy Payton: First United Methodist Church of Euless. I currently help with the food pantry. We serve an average of 120 to 130 families a month. We pick up food from area food banks and bring it back to the church for the people who volunteer at the food pantry to distribute to people who are in need. Many are disabled or they are out of a job. They need help. They come to the church to get help.
Betty Fuller: The new sprinkler system, renovations of the sprinkler system … you helped with that?
Jimmy Payton: Helen and I were pleased to help the church. It has been very special in our lives, so we were glad to help.
Betty Fuller: See, he won’t say any more than that. They helped with the sprinkler system, pews, etc. and I know they have done some things for SMU. Gillian Broadway, their charitable giving is why the patient tower at Harris HEB Hospital is named the Payton Tower and the chapel is called the Helen Payton Chapel.
Jimmy Payton: Let’s put it this way: our favorite charities are the First United Methodist Church, Southern Methodist University and Harris Methodist Hospital.
Gillian Broadway: How did you get involved in all those?
Jimmy Payton: Well, I was born into the Methodist Church. That’s the way I got into that. I just mentioned how I got involved with the hospital. As far as SMU, I had always wanted to go to SMU from the time I started thinking about going to college. I went to NTAC first because it was less expensive when I went there. I think it was $50 a semester and I was a member of the Cadet Corps, so I had all my uniforms furnished. At that time, NTAC was a part of the A&M system. I had shoes, shirt, socks, pants, ties, what we called the great coat, overcoat. They furnished all my clothes. That was a big deal. Those three … those are my charities.
Betty Fuller: Any other civic duties?
Jimmy Payton: I was one of the founding members of the Grapevine Rotary Club and served as president of it, and we’ve always supported the local Chamber of Commerce.
Gillian Broadway: Tell us about your children.
Jimmy Payton: Let’s see, we have two children, Nancy and Jim. Jim is married to Chris and they have two sons: Matthew who will turn 21 and Justin who is 24. Nancy is our daughter and she has three children: Natalie who is 9, Callye she’s 7 and Cole is 3.
Betty Fuller: What was the most difficult decision in your life?
Jimmy Payton: Right off hand I can’t think of anything.
Betty Fuller: Anything you would change about your career or life?
Jimmy Payton: I’ve been very fortunate. I don’t know there’s anything I would change. There have been bumps in the road and times when things were not as good as I would have liked for them to be, but as far as substantive change that would have changed the direction of my life, none. As far as the best decision that I ever made, that would be when I married Helen Beseda. We have had a great 61 years. We’ve had some good years and some years that were not so good in the automobile business, but by and large, while things have not come easy at all times, I think what we have done has strengthened us as we went along. We never had anything that was too hard that we couldn’t bear it. Helen is from a small Texas town between West and Abbott. Her family is of Czechoslovakian descent. You talk about cotton fields. That’s what they have down there. When I married into Helen’s family, I was the first non-Catholic in the family. Talk about being alone! All in all, I like my life, I’ve enjoyed it. It’s allowed me to meet a lot of neat people, especially the volunteer work I’ve done. It has allowed me to meet a lot of really, really nice people that I would not have had the opportunity to meet had I not done that. It’s been a delight.
Gillian Broadway: Any people that stick out in your mind?
Betty Fuller: Those people that volunteer are his kind of people.
Gillian Broadway: Well, I’m asking because if we’re going to create a story we need these peoples’ names.
Jimmy Payton: Well, they all kind of run together. At my age, not many of them are left. There’s not a lot of my peers left. There are a lot of people that I really value their friendship, but many are gone now. The ones who I still have left, like Bill Byers, he and I grew up together. Our mother’s went to school together.
Betty Fuller: They are third cousins.
Jimmy Payton: I have a good friend with whom I partnered for many years. His name is Howard Thornton. He and I were partners in several dealerships over the years. He and I still fish together. I also have a friend in Albuquerque named Jack Price, a Volkswagen dealer. I met him at the National Automobile Dealers Association. I would not have ever known he and Kay otherwise. He and Kay are good friends of ours. I’ve had the opportunity to visit with a lot of people who have made and do make important decisions like President Bush…
Betty Fuller: How many times have you met Bush? What kind of occasions?
Jimmy Payton: Well, you’re probably asking about an occasion where I actually talked to him or was in a conversation where he was. There were probably half a dozen times where he was there. Mostly political type things. On a similar note, I will tell you one incident where it was a fun type thing. When I was President of the National Automobile Dealers Association…
Betty Fuller: That means Volkswagen, too…
Jimmy Payton: Yes, NADA includes all manufacturers. The NADA headquarters are right outside Washington DC, in McLean, Virginia. They own a ten story building there and that’s where we do all our national business. I spent a lot of time up there, usually three or four times a month, and on one occasion Helen went with me. We had a young man that worked with our governmental relations and he was what they called an “advance man” for Ronald Reagan when Reagan was running for President. An “advance man” was one of those who goes out and makes all the preparations for the President’s visits. They see to everything: crowd control, security, meals, lodging, whatever the President needs. He left his job working for the President and was working for us, the National Automobile Dealers Association. He arranged for a private tour of the White House for Helen and I, along with the Executive Vice President of NADA and his wife. He was guiding us through the White House – I have a picture of this at the house, this was after business hours – we were going through the Oval Office, a big private cafeteria, other places. We went into a room which is called the International Room which has flags of all the nations that we had treaties with. It’s on the very ground floor. The White House is on different levels and this is a level where we could go out onto the lawn. While we were there, President Reagan and his wife were coming through to get on a helicopter to go to a function. They stopped and visited with us and we had our picture taken with them. He was a delightful person. He wanted to stay and talk, but Mrs. Reagan said, ‘We must go, we’re running behind.’ That’s how he was, just friendly. Of course, he knew the people that we were with. That was an experience we would never have had if we had never volunteered at the National Automobile Dealers Association.
Betty Fuller: Aunt Ethel Fuller said none of her children were interested and gave me all she and Uncle Cecil had about Fullers because Cecil was the oldest. Ethel had a sister who was a congressman’s aide. James and I were given a special tour of the White House, but there was a Democrat in office. We had a Republican sign burned the first year we built our house fifty years ago! I thought it was the KKK … no, I really didn’t think that. Gillian Broadway, you wanted to ask Jimmy about his tombstone?
Jimmy Payton: I just don’t want it to say what those 91 unknown graves that we just put down at Calloway Cemetery … we don’t know who is in them. We’ve got 91 graves down there that were unmarked and unknown. We don’t know who is in them, but I just don’t want to leave them as unknown…
Betty Fuller: What do you want on your tombstone?
Jimmy Payton: I hope it would not say unknown (laughter)…
Betty Fuller: Where are you going to be buried?
Jimmy Payton: Bluebonnet Hills. We have plots there.
Betty Fuller: You know we’re going to be buried at Parker Cemetery on Highway 121. James calls it the red clay hill.
Jimmy Payton: Yes, I know, you’re going to be buried at Parker…
Betty Fuller: Yes (laughter), he’s heard it too many times, he can’t help but know. James’ dad died when he was in his 50’s and he is buried at Moore’s in Arlington near Jennie and Abe, your mother and father. If there were one or two things for which you would like to be remembered…
Jimmy Payton: Oh Betty, I don’t know, I don’t know that I’m worth being remembered so I don’t know…
Betty Fuller: See! I told you how unassuming he was! Half the people here in Euless don’t know what this man has done.
Gillian Broadway: Well, what she knows about you, she’ll brag about you. So you’re set for life.
Betty Fuller: What would you most like your descendants to know about your family?
Jimmy Payton: Well, if you read this, you know I was always raised to leave things a little better than the way I found them. I believe that. I’ve always tried to do that. I want my family, my children, my grandchildren to carry that forward. I would be very pleased with that.
Betty Fuller: I know that by the time I graduated Euless High School there was a senior trip. Did you go on a senior trip?
Jimmy Payton: No, there was a war. That was one of the things we missed because of the war. We didn’t have a senior trip.
Betty Fuller: What were some memorable courses you studied?
Jimmy Payton: I liked government, history. I’ve always enjoyed history, other people hated it. I liked mathematics…
Betty Fuller: Yes, mathematics is easy for Mr. Payton. I sat here and was so impressed one day. He and Bill Byers were talking about the cemetery. Jimmy went through all this math in his head, in his head! It would have been difficult for me to do it on paper … I don’t know what they were talking about, yards, feet. I don’t know. They got the correct footage for the cemetery fence.
Jimmy Payton: My dad taught me that, Betty. My dad had a 3rd grade education, but he could figure figures in his head faster than you could on an adding machine.
Gillian Broadway: Describe your most interesting client or customer in your business.
Jimmy Payton: I’ve had a lot of interesting customers...
Betty Fuller: Let me tell you a story about you that was told to me. You know Frank Reaves. He bought a lot of cars from you. Rose told me Frank ordered a new car and Jimmy’s dad, Mr. Abe…
Jimmy Payton: He ordered a Lincoln…
Betty Fuller: Yes, it was a Lincoln, and Rose said, “Mr. Abe had a red carpet…”
Jimmy Payton: He did! He loved Rose … that’s was my dad’s deal…
Betty Fuller: Rose said, “I never told Jimmy … Mr. Abe had a red carpet rolled out for me to walk to my new Lincoln.” (laughter). We just have a few more questions. What did you aspire to be when you were young?
Jimmy Payton: An attorney. Fortunately, I came to my senses…
Betty Fuller: In what positions did you serve for the City of Euless?
Jimmy Payton: Mayor and Municipal Court Judge.
Betty Fuller: Why did you choose your career?
Jimmy Payton: Well, I started working there when I was working my way through college. I liked it, so I continued. You know, that’s not unusual.
Betty Fuller: The next question is, if you had it to do over, would you choose the same career?
Jimmy Payton: I would.
Betty Fuller: I thought so.
Jimmy Payton: I love what I did.
Betty Fuller: What is your memory of the most interesting or unusual event as owner of Payton-Wright Ford?
Jimmy Payton: I don’t know that I can pick one, really.
Betty Fuller: What accomplishment of your children are you most proud of?
Jimmy Payton: I’m just proud of my family.
Betty Fuller: What were the longest hours you ever worked a day?
Jimmy Payton: Fourteen, probably. There were many hours, actually. A seventy-two hour week was pretty standard for me.
Betty Fuller: Do you have a favorite vacation spot?
Jimmy Payton: Yes, for many years we took the kids to Padre Island. That would be my favorite.
Betty Fuller: What’s your favorite leisure activity? Other than your garden.
Jimmy Payton: It used to be tennis, but now it's fishing. I also love to read.
Betty Fuller: Most interesting trip you’ve ever taken?
Jimmy Payton: Probably to Europe, to Great Britain.
Betty Fuller: Why?
Jimmy Payton: We got to go there when I was president of the National Association. They invited me over there to speak at their annual meeting and they were very gracious. We got acquainted with them on a more personal basis than you’d normally do on a vacation. We were traveling with people that were very compatible with us.
Betty Fuller: What’s the most important landmark that you’ve visited?
Jimmy Payton: I don’t know that any of them really stand out more than the other. Lincoln Memorial, Smithsonian, Golden Gate Bridge. I guess if I really had to pick I would have to say that trip to the White House, which we’ve already talked about.
Betty Fuller: What place would you like to visit that you haven’t visited?
Jimmy Payton: Scotland.
Betty Fuller: Activities with friends?
Jimmy Payton: We go out to dinner with friends twice a week.
Betty Fuller: What do you like to do with your children or grandchildren?
Jimmy Payton: We just spend time here at the house or vacation.
Betty Fuller: Have you considered writing a story about your life for your grandchildren?
Jimmy Payton: No, I haven’t. I admire people like Gillian Broadway who can write it down on paper, I can’t do that. I can verbalize it, but I always hated writing papers. It was one of the things I didn’t like in school.
Betty Fuller: What section of the newspaper do you read first?
Jimmy Payton: I like the front page.
Betty Fuller: What types of food do you like best?
Jimmy Payton: Steak probably, but I enjoy Tex-Mex, I enjoy Italian, I enjoy fish.
Betty Fuller: What is your favorite holiday?
Jimmy Payton: Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Betty Fuller: Which funeral was hardest to attend?
Jimmy Payton: My daddy and my mama, no question.
Betty Fuller: You served on a grand jury before. What do you remember about that?
Jimmy Payton: It’s an awesome responsibility because if you get indicted, and even if you’re not guilty, the stain is still there that you were indicted. So, without seeing the full evidence, I’m causing a person’s reputation to be put at risk. Now, I’ll tell you a funny story. This is a true story. An African American man, a member of the jury, obviously well thought of in his community because he got appointed, he and I were talking about different things and he was sitting next me. A case came up that was referred to, but was not before us, and it was a case with a young African American girl in her 20’s. She ran her car into this guy and he went through and was stuck in her windshield. She put the car in the garage. To make a long story short, the guy who was sitting next to me was her father and here I was thinking, my gosh, here this lady did this and her father is sitting on the grand jury. He was a real good member.
Betty Fuller: What values do you respect the most that your parents instilled in you?
Jimmy Payton: One of them was to leave things better than the way I found them. They also instilled in me a respect for other people and their rights – that my rights only go so far as it does not intrude upon other people’s rights. One thing that has served me well - when I started in the automobile business, I was working with my father on the used car lot. I asked him what to tell people because I didn’t have any formal training. One day, after washing cars for a while, Dad said, go talk to that man and sell him a car. I said well, what do I tell him and he said to tell him what you know about the car. Just tell him the truth and that way you won’t have to remember what you told him. I have tried to practice that and teach my employees to practice that philosophy. It may not have always worked, but I tried to teach them that.
Betty Fuller: Have you had any difficult decisions to make based on these values we’ve just talked about?
Jimmy Payton: Sure, that happens all the time because there are times when not only your interests, but people who are your friends might have competing interests. Then you have to decide. I try to look at the facts and say, this is what’s fair and what is right. This is what the law is. It’s not necessarily what’s fair, but you just have to value and judge. I have had people come before me in the municipal court in the City of Euless that I knew; one of them became a City Council member later. He was before me as a teenager. He reminds me of it quite often. Blackie Sustaire gave him a ticket and I made a decision based on what the facts were and what the law was. He was guilty. He didn’t want to pay a fine. He didn’t think what he did was bad, but it was against the law.
Betty Fuller: What is your most important principle of behavior?
Jimmy Payton: Well, you tell the truth, then you won’t have to remember what you told to begin with.
Betty Fuller: Are there any goals that you haven’t achieved that you would like to achieve before you die?
Jimmy Payton: This one is impossible, but I’d like to see my youngest grandchild graduate from college. That’s twenty years from now and I ain’t gonna make that so (laughter)... Well, my mother died at a hundred and I would be a hundred and one by then.
Gillian Broadway: You could probably do that!
Betty Fuller: How old do you think she was when, I know she had to be 98 or 99 when Gillian Broadway and I visited her in Parkwood? When I introduced Gillian Broadway to her as Jennie Fuller Payton, she said, “I am Jennie Payton, not Jennie Fuller.”
Jimmy Payton: She was 98.
Betty Fuller: Have you ever had to make difficult decisions that have forced you to abandon a goal in your life?
Jimmy Payton: I don’t know of any. I have been blessed to have been goal oriented my whole life. I never had a time when I wasn’t working towards something, even today.
Betty Fuller: Do you think that setting goals has led to your achievements?
Jimmy Payton: No question, yes!
Betty Fuller: Where do you think humanity is going to be in fifty years?
Jimmy Payton: (laughing) I hate to say. I think we’ve got to change directions or we’re going to be in big trouble. I think we have presented Gillian Broadway’s generation and those coming after her, not insurmountable, but certainly quite serious obstacles. But it can happen. I was reading an article today about particular strains of wheat that they are experimenting with in China and in the desert. They have developed some that can produce good kernels, good size, good nutrition in droughts. So instead of spending money on bombs and missiles, they’ll be spending money on agriculture and how to feed the world. We’re not doing it, but hopefully our children will do a better job than we did.
Betty Fuller: What do you think is our most basic and inalienable right?
Jimmy Payton: Well, freedom is the obvious answer. As I said before, my freedom only goes as far as it doesn’t overlap your freedom. So what we have is a system of justice. The courts try to interpret where my freedom starts and yours stops, or vice versa; where mine stops and yours starts. It isn’t perfect, but it is the best one that is in operation in today’s world. So we try to improve on it.
Betty Fuller: What has been the single most important event in your life? You said marrying Helen?
Jimmy Payton: Yes, and my family.
Betty Fuller: Have you ever found yourself in a heated debate over anything like politics?
Jimmy Payton: (laughing) I learned to avoid those.
Betty Fuller: What aspects of your life do you find yourself contemplating most often at your age?
Jimmy Payton: (laughing) Did I take my medication, probably?
Betty Fuller: Is there anything you dream of doing before you die that you didn’t get to do?
Jimmy Payton: No, I’m very content. I’ve led a very satisfying life and had the opportunity to accomplish more than I could have ever dreamed.