MISSOULA — Mora C. Payne, 87, passed away Nov. 11, 2019, at St. Patricks hospital in Missoula accompanied by loving family and friends. Born Dec. 23, 1931, in Butte, to William and Helen MacKinnon, both naturalized citizens from Nova Scotia, Canada, Mora was fiercely proud of her Scottish heritage and of Butte’s multicultural diversity. A Scottish Protestant, she found herself  “living between an Irish Catholic family on one side and a German Catholic one on the other.” From her mother she developed an appreciation for poetry and literature, and from her father, a feisty wit and affection for the clan tartan.

The love of music threaded its way through Mora’s life. At age 18, she entered the University of Montana on a $75 violin performance scholarship. “That $75 dollars changed my life,” she recalled. She played in the Missoula Symphony Orchestra and joined the Tri Delta sorority, making lifelong friends, and in 1954 graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the music school. Her first job sent her to rural Chester, where she taught high school home economics and music (1954-1956) and met her first husband, Carman Skari, a handsome rancher with a passion for history. Married in 1955, they had two daughters, Tala and Lisa, and together helped found the Liberty County Arts Council, bringing repertory theater and Shakespeare to Chester audiences.  Both were active members of the local Democratic party. When Carman was elected to the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention, the family moved to Helena to participate in what would become one of the most important events in the state’s history. Following Carman’s death that same year, Mora was named District 14 delegate in his place. In the 47 years since, she attended nearly all the group’s regular reunions.

She returned to Missoula in 1973 where she taught violin and rejoined the Missoula symphony, playing under numerous conductors until 2003. Her lifelong commitment to music and education led her to establish student scholarships in history and music, and to serve on many educational and music boards. Over four decades she was actively involved in a dozen organizations, including the Young Audiences of Western Montana, (president 1978); the Missoula County High School Citizens Study Committee (1976-1977), the String Orchestra of the Rockies and the Montana Arts Council advisory committee (1980’s);  the Montana Chamber Orchestra; the Missoula Symphony Association (president 1994-1995), and the UM Alumni Association (2002-2005).

In 1975, she married Dr. Thomas Payne, a UM professor of political science, and in a remarkable example of bi-partisan marriage (he was a Republican), they campaigned actively for local and state candidates, with Mora supporting Tom’s campaign for the state senate (he ultimately lost). When they disagreed over party lines, they split the front lawn to put up their respective political posters. They travelled widely, at one point living in Nigeria where Tom was teaching while Mora delved into the local arts and cultural scene. Following his death in 1998, Mora pursued community work, volunteering for Partners in Health, fundraising for arts programs and the hospitals, while encouraging more women to run for public office. She cared deeply about social justice and as a member of the United Congregational Church, was instrumental in its Care Core group in demonstrating support for gay and other marginalized individuals in the community.

Travel thrilled her. She ventured to eastern Europe, Greece, Mexico, and more, while making regular visits to her daughters in Paris and Seattle. She loved taking pictures, filling numerous scrapbooks while soliciting advice from her photographer son-in-law: “I still don’t understand how to get close and wait for something to happen.” She was also an enthusiastic student of the UM’s MOLLI classes, taking philosophy, art history and theater, into her eighties.

Friends remember Mora’s willingness to reach out to others, her youthful spirit and lively intellect, quick humor, and political passion. In her last two years at the Springs, she enjoyed Monday wine parties with resident friends, delighted in the poetry of Mary Oliver, and became a devoted Rachel Maddow fan.

She is survived by daughters Tala and Lisa Skari, granddaughters Oona Duroy and Camryn Skari, and sons-in-law, Stephane Duroy and Steve Mensching.  Please join Mora’s family in a celebration of her life at the UM Music Recital Hall, Dec. 14 at 2 p.m., with reception to follow. Donations may be made in memory of Mora to the Povarello Center. 

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