Profile: Sharon Payne

■ BY SUE ERWIN

Delaware native Sharon Payne never heard of Boca Grande before 2011, and if it wasn’t for her husband, John, acting on an impulse she might have never found it. Sharon is currently a real estate leasing agent at Michael Saunders on the island.

She met John in Texas at a church singles group. John is from Toronto and formerly worked for B.A.S.F Chemical Corporation. Their first date was a hockey game – the Texas Stars.

“I knew absolutely nothing about ice hockey, so I searched Wikipedia and tried to learn everything I could about the game before our date,” she said. “And to further impress him, I even learned the words to the Canadian national anthem.”

About six months after they began dating, John started talking about getting married. But he had three requests: Sharon had to learn how to play golf, fish on a regular basis, and the wedding had to take place on a Florida beach. So while working from his home office in Texas, he came across Gasparilla Island on the internet and asked Sharon what she thought.

“I told him if he picked the place, I would show up. So we came here, sight unseen, and got married,” Sharon said. “And I love it. This is a very special place, and it has a piece of my heart.” John booked Heidemarie Burke as their wedding photographer and Native Gardens to take care of the flowers.

Immediate family members attended the ceremony. They were married by Reverend Heydt at 10th Street Beach on December 23, 2011, had the reception at the Gasparilla Inn and stayed there for two nights. But they were asked to leave early, because President Bush was coming in on Christmas Day.

“I’ll never forget that. So we spent the rest of our honeymoon in Naples, but we’ve spent every anniversary at The Inn,” Sharon said.

They worked their way south for the honeymoon, looking at real estate along the way. John wanted to settle in Naples, but they ended up finding several places they liked in Bonita Springs and Rotonda. “Naples had become so busy and it was sprawling with people, so we ended up choosing Rotonda West, because we both wanted to be as close to Gasparilla Island as possible.”

They bought a home in Rotonda three years ago. “We love it here. We love the beach, the people are friendly, it reminds me of home, and it gives me a good feeling,” she said. She started working at The Gasparilla Inn & Club one year ago as a hostess in the dining room.

“I wasn’t ready to retire and I was having a lot of fun,” she admits. But last summer, Sharon saw an opportunity to become a real estate rental agent with Michael Saunders on the island. “I had worked with new home sales for a while in Texas. A couple friends from church were agents and they needed help on the weekends,” she said.

She applied for the rental agent position and was offered the job last August. “I love meeting new people and helping people. It’s been a very busy season. People are looking for rentals next year and the year after that. And everybody I work with is great.”

Sharon said her favorite part about the island is having so many wonderful choices to eat.

“I’ve tried all the food establishments here,” she said. John frequently joins her, and the two enjoy lunch together at the beach.

Sharon has one daughter, Audra, who is 36 and lives in Arlington, Texas. Audra has three children: Trevor, 16, Brooke, 14 and Victoria, 13. “They are all very active and involved with band programs at school. The girls are very artistic, and Trevor loves football,” Sharon said. Sharon was born in Newark, Delaware (not to be. confused with Newark, N.J.).

Her parents, Duke and Helen Tyler, always encouraged her admiration and respect for animals. She attended the University of Delaware and majored in veterinary science and marine biology. After graduating from college, she worked for Ichthyological Associates in Middletown, Del. She was part of a research team that did an environmental impact study on the effects of power and light on different species of fish.

“We were contracted out by the nuclear regulatory commission,” she said. “We did all the marine and biological research. I did that for seven years. It was fun.” She worked as a fisheries biologist on projects in the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. Dr. Ronnie Kernehan led several of the projects. “Dr. Kernehan co-authored a guide, ‘Fishes of the Delaware Estuaries, a Guide to the Early Life Histories’ (1979; E. A. Communications, Ecological Analysts Inc., Towson, Md.), and I had the pleasure to assist in the publication,” she said.

It was at that time that she also learned how to fish.

After that she worked as an associate scientist at DuPont in the biochemistry department. She later switched to the pharmaceutical side of the business and worked in Wilmington, Del. for 14 years. While working at DuPont, she began training in the quality assurance department, developing new skills when the pharmaceutical industry had taken a downturn. She took her skill set and moved to Austin, Texas and started working at a Johnson & Johnson company called McNeil Consumer Healthcare.

“At that time, the company made all forms of Tylenol in Texas. I’m very loyal to the brand today,” she said. “One project I am especially proud of is working with the charity UNICEF, where we provided donations of Tylenol for various countries.”

She worked in the document management department and was part of a special compliance team.

“My move west came at the invitation of my daughter Audra, who had already relocated to Texas with the Navy. So, I packed my life up in the back of my red sports car and headed to Austin in 1997,” Sharon said. Years later she did clinical research with another pharmaceutical company and traveled all around the United States. She worked in 30 states in two years. After that, she was ready to settle back into a desk job and took a position as a quality specialist for another pharmaceutical company.

“The pharmaceutical industry can be kind of fickle, and you have to always be thinking of ways to reinvent yourself,” she said.

Growing up, Sharon recalls going fox hunting with her dad, who is 86 and still a foxhunter with Fairhill Hounds. He still goes hunting with Lana DuPont Wright. She also was involved in a pony club, and she was a patron of the Olympic equestrian team in 1976. She has participated in dog shows, and had an English springer spaniel that was a winner at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Sharon and John are both big University of Texas fans.

When Sharon is not working, she is very passionate about the restoration of the Gasparilla Range Light. “It was originally built in Delaware, so I have to support it.”

She’d also like to become more involved with Boca Grande’s fundraising efforts for Haiti.

And she’s hoping to soon rehone her fishing skills and join a team and participate in one or more of the upcoming tarpon tournaments. If you have an open spot on your boat and would like to extend an invite to Sharon, give her a call at (941) 662-5116.