Roger Payne, PhD

This pen-and-ink cartoon hangs in the downstairs bathroom of our house in Vermont. It represents narrow lenticular shape left within the intersection of several domains. I am writing this on father’s day June 2023.

Roger Payne, PhD/Father

As a kid, my family lived over the road from Roger Payne and his family. During the winter months, us number 7 driven by Joe came down the road to pick us up. During the summer months, the Payne family followed the songs of whales around the globe. We kids played and explored together our shared forest and marshlands. The thing about kids is that we are kids. We knew that Roger and Katy were scientists and did cool work. To us, they were parents. Parents who called to us from the respective backdoors for meals.

In 1970s when we had just started primary school, the Paynes released an album called “Songs of the Humpback Whale”. The album landed on the Billboard 200 list for several weeks. It sold several hundred thousand copies. I remember my Uncle Stephen listening to it. The album was nearly everywhere we went.

Gregory Mcdonald, Author/Father

Through the late 1960s and early 1970s, my father was the Arts and Humanities editor for the Boston Globe. His team reviewed the album, of course. And as member of staff, he knew folks who drew the cartoons


The cartoon shows a whale (yes, likely a sperm whale floating impossibly high in the water) singing with stylized notes flowing from the mouth. Roger Payne and his collaborators were the scientists. Larry Johnson drew cartoons that told a story in a millisecond.

This cartoon was published by the Boston Globe around the same time at he album was released. It is likely that Larry Johnson (twitter @LJCartoons) gave the original work to my father. I guess that my mother framed it. It hung my childhood home, then my mother’s home, then since her passing, it has hung in my home.


I love this drawing for the multiple stories that it tells. Studying the drawing, you can identify the white-out that Mr Johnson as he edited the work. In one edit, you see him pulling the eyebrow further back on the forehead changing the emotional presentation of the drawing.

I love the drawing for the obscurity of it. On one road for a few years when two family lived as neighbors both families did extraordinary things – separately. One family helped protect whales from hunters and made our lives richer with the love of science and their fascination. Katy Payne, Roger’s first wife, went on to document how elephants communicate with infrasound – extremely low frequencies. My father went on to publish dozens of books some of which were turned into movies.

As this moment, we were little kids standing on a McAdam road waiting for Joe the driver of Bus Number Seven. Joe drives us to our school then returns to our homes and our forest and our play at the end of our lessons.

The flash in time captured by a bit of ink on white paper.