In the late 1950s, H. Morse Payne Jr. was part of the original design team Walter Gropius chose at The Architects Collaborative to design the University of Baghdad campus in Iraq.
“As the young author of the master plan, Payne communicated his ideas in expressive thumbnail sketches,” Mina Marefat wrote in the essay “The Universal University: How Bauhaus Came to Baghdad,” which is posted online.
The sentence concisely captures Mr. Payne’s talents and legacy. Admired and sought after for his facility at drawing, he sketched out a singular career in Boston’s architecture world. Mr. Payne was a principal and former president of the collaborative, a groundbreaking firm based in Cambridge.
He also had taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and formerly led the Boston Architectural College’s board of directors.
All the while he expressed himself with those expressive sketches.
“He was the prince of being able to draw,” said Perry Neubauer, a former president of the collaborative who counted Mr. Payne as a mentor and friend.
Mr. Payne, who also was an accomplished genealogist and delved deeply into the order and placement of Colonial-era communities, was 96 when he died Jan. 9. He had lived in Carleton-Willard Village in Bedford and before that in Lincoln and in a home he designed in Lexington’s Five Fields development.
“His skills as an illustrator were with him from a young age, and it drove how he worked,” said his son Thomas of Chepachet, R.I.
“When he was starting off on a project, it was always just doodles. He would just doodle endlessly as a way of getting himself into a design approach,” Thomas added. “This would be true of a small house as well as an urban design.”
Colleagues at The Architects Collaborative took notice of Mr. Payne’s skills and drawings, which were “so engaging that often other design teams would seek out my father and ask him to invest a little time with their projects,” his son said.
Such requests could be challenging, given that he was sometimes asked to visualize designs for projects he knew little about, but “Morse would never say no. He was the sweetest man you ever met,” Neubauer recalled.
“He was very humble, but he was a very talented guy,” Neubauer added. “Not only was he lovable, he got stuff done, too.”
Hired at TAC in 1952 by Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus design school in Germany, Mr. Payne stayed with the firm until the late 1980s. Along with the University of Baghdad, projects he worked on included the US Embassy in Athens, Temple Israel in Boston, and Nauset Regional High School in Eastham.
He taught at the Harvard Graduate School of design for nine years, beginning in the mid-1950s, and also taught at what was then the Boston Architectural Center. He led the center’s board of directors twice – in the mid-1960s and early-1970s.
“Morse’s role was to teach people how to present their ideas in a drawing form, as well as in a verbal form,” recalled Neubauer, who was among his students at Harvard.
Mr. Payne, he added, connected easily with college students. “Here’s this dude who had a tie on under his crewneck sweater,” Neubauer said. “He was one of us – he really was. He looked around and he spoke in this quiet way: ‘We have to get some energy working and find a way to explain our ideas to people.’ ”
In addition, Mr. Payne formerly served as president of the Massachusetts Society of Genealogists, was a board member and former leader of the Lexington Historical Society, and had been part of the Cape Cod Genealogical Society since its inception.
“My family, grandparents, and great-grandparents took active interest in history and genealogy,” he recalled in an essay for a 1999 bulletin published by the Cape Cod Genealogical Society, “while from age 12 I ventured each Saturday into Boston to the New England Historic and Genealogical Society Library on the top floor at Ashburton Place for my first genealogical searching.”
The middle of three siblings, Harry Morse Payne Jr. was born in 1922 and grew up in Norwood, a son of Harry Sr., a woolens merchant, and Edna Beardsley.
As a boy, Mr. Payne was bedridden for a year because of a knee ailment. Kept away from his friends’ activities, he developed a keen interest in sports and fitness. He subsequently ran track and became an avid swimmer, a pursuit that lasted into his late 80s, when he competed in Senior Games in Massachusetts and nationally, collecting a bronze medal at 88.
While still in high school, Mr. Payne took top honors in a town planning competition.
During World War II, he enlisted in the Navy and served as a quartermaster on the USS Boston, which was part of the Pacific Fleet.
Back home, he at first tried to enroll at the Rhode Island School of Design and then attended the Boston Architectural Center. Soon after, the Boston Society of Architects awarded him its first traveling scholarship, which allowed him to study for a semester at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, France.
He also secured a scholarship to study architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
By then he was already a husband and father. In 1946, he had married Helen Marion Beasley, whom he had known from high school and his neighborhood in Norwood. “They were very young sweethearts,” Thomas said.
Mr. Payne left MIT and the Boston Architectural Center without a degree, which didn’t hinder his teaching prospects as he went on to be an assistant professor at Harvard and an instructor at the architectural center.
His talent, meanwhile, propelled his career as an architect. Having met and spoken with Gropius at an event, he decided to go to the offices of The Architects Collaborative to seek employment. By the time he arrived home, Helen was waiting with the news that Gropius himself had called with a job offer.
Mr. Payne’s wife, Helen, died in 2005. In addition to their son Thomas, he leaves their other son, Harry III of Antrim, N.H.; their daughter, Amelia Affhauser of Greenfield; his sister, Clara Gower of Melbourne, Fla.; and three grandchildren.
A memorial gathering will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Lexington Depot, which is part of the Lexington Historical Society.
Though Mr. Payne conducted extensive historical and genealogical research for his essays about his family and the communities on Cape Cod and Boston, even those publications featured his accomplished drawings.
“Morse could draw better than anybody you ever heard of. He wasn’t just an artist. He was a designer,” Neubauer said.
The subjects of Mr. Payne’s drawings could be proposed buildings, a college campus, a layout of Colonial-era towns – just about anything.
“He loved the act of illustrating,” Thomas said. “When he had chunks of time, rather than seeking out vacations, he would get his easel and chalk and pen and go out and find subject matter — Concord Center, or bridges over rivers, or a walk in the park.”Marquard can be reached at email@example.com.