Love Never Dies: One donor’s heartbreaking heartwarming story of love, loss and homecoming at The Straz.

In the early ’90s, Angie Mathew’s mother introduced her to a young man earning his master’s in engineering at the University of South Florida. Dale Payne had worked with Angie’s mother on a project in St. Petersburg. The introduction proved to be a turning point in Angie Mathews’s destiny.

“Dale was unlike anyone I’d ever met,” she says. “That first conversation lasted five hours. I knew he was special. He was so intelligent and funny.” Angie was starting to fall in love – and so was Dale.

In 1999, they gambled big on the American Dream, pooling their resources to invest seed money in a container and on-site storage business. A Aamerican Container started small, with an honest mission built on Dale’s business integrity and acumen with Angie taking over the books.

Three years after launching A Aamerican Container, Angie married Dale on April 7, 2002, ten years after her mother’s fateful introduction. Carted by horse-drawn carriage, the newlyweds clopped through Downtown Tampa to the Straz Center for their reception. “It was magical,” Angie remembers. “The whole inside was softly lit, like candlelight. It is my favorite memory of The Straz.”

Angie, who was born and raised in Tampa, had been in high school when the city broke ground for the new performing arts center. “I remember the interstate being built. I remember The Straz being built. We were all so excited. We could now see real professional plays and not just dream of one day going to New York to see a show.” Angie’s mother instilled in her a love of the arts, so when Dale asked Angie what she wanted to do on their first dating anniversary, she asked to see Fiddler on the Roof at Showboat Theater in St. Pete. After they married, Angie’s mom impressed upon them the need to do something on their own, especially as the couple devoted time between the company and their two young children.

“Mom suggested a date night at least once a month,” Angie says. “So, we had a decision: season tickets to the Bucs or season tickets to The Straz. We chose The Straz and never regretted our decision. It was our responsibility to make sure our relationship was always strong. It’s funny because Dale didn’t grow up seeing plays, so he couldn’t follow them. I would sit there and explain what was happening. Gradually, he started to understand and truly did love going to plays. Even when our business grew and he traveled a lot, he always made sure his meetings never interfered with date night at The Straz.”

The Paynes eventually added two tickets once a season and introduced their children to the performing arts, using intermission to break down what was happening on stage. With their hectic lifestyles, a booming business and a commitment to date night, by 2009 the Paynes figured out they needed to shift their date night to date matinee, so they could see the show then enjoy talking about it over dinner.

However, life had other plans. On Sept. 28, 2009, during his weekly karate class, Dale experienced a massive heart attack. Fifteen minutes after hanging up from a conversation with him while he drove to the gym, Angie got a call that her husband was being rushed to the hospital. He died in transport. He was 45 years old.

With a gaping hole left in her life, Angie carried on, taking over the business while attending to her children’s grief and juggling the added responsibilities of family life Dale had shouldered. And then there was the connection to The Straz.

“I think the first year [after Dale died], I gave my tickets away. Honestly, that year isn’t clear, and I don’t really remember. But I also had tickets with friends for the Kid Time series. We were three moms with two kids each. My first time back at The Straz was at Kid Time – that I remember. I remember going to the first show and just crying through the whole thing. The memories of our time together there were too painful. Then I started going to shows with one of Dale’s oldest friends, and she and I would spend the whole time talking about Dale. She helped me through those first couple of years. Now, I love talking about Dale, and it brings back wonderful memories to realize how intertwined my life has been with The Straz.”

Angie kept her promise to date night, taking the kids and a friend to a show at The Straz once a month. Her son graduated in 2017, with both his graduation and prom held at the Straz Center, and her daughter loves the performing arts, particularly dancing and acting. With her son away at college, Angie and her daughter keep the family tradition of Straz Center date night alive, a ritual that honors Dale and the happy memories they created here. In time, Angie made their company, A Aamerican Container, a corporate sponsor.

“I believe in and enjoy the arts,” Angie says. “Being a single mom and business owner, going to plays allows me, for a few hours, to just relax and enjoy time with my children. I simply love it. The Straz has been a part of mine and my kids’ lives for a long time. So, it’s easy for me to support The Straz,” she says. “I truly appreciate all the time and years of dedication people put into their craft. It’s a drive … they have no choice but to follow their dreams. And, Tampa has changed so much in my life. We are no longer the sleepy little seaside town of the past. That only happened because people chose to dedicate both themselves and their companies to supporting its growth.”

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