Rica is the daughter of Grover and Bessie Lewis of Birmingham. She was a member of the National Honor Society and was voted "Most Popular" in her 1977 graduating class at Jones Valley High School. She attended Talladega College on scholarship and earned her bachelor's degree in economics in 1981.
She earned her master's degree in health care management at UAB in 1983 and worked at the VA Medical Center during the summers as an administrative resident. After graduating she took a job in Jackson, Mississippi, coordinating accreditation for 10 VA medical centers in the region. While there she met and married Eddie Payton, a former NFL player and brother of running back Walter Payton, who coaches golf at Jackson State University.
In 1993 Lewis-Payton became the assistant to the chief of staff at the G. V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center in Jackson. In 2000 Mississippi governor Ronnie Musgrove appointed her to head the state's Medicare system. In 2004 she became special assistant to the vice chancellor of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and was also appointed Chief Operating Officer for the South Central VA Health Care Network (VISN 16_, which covers the central southern region. She returned home to direct the Birmingham VA Medical Center in 2008, and left in 2012.
She and Eddie have two children, Edward and Erica. She also has two stepchildren and five step-grandchildren.
- Jeter, Lynne (November 13, 2006) "Rica Lewis-Payton, Deputy Network Director (COO), Veterans Integrated Service Network, Department of Veterans Affairs." Mississippi's 50 Leading Business Women: 2006, Mississippi Business Journal
- "VA Medical Center Director Lewis-Payton Has Strong Birmingham, UAB Connections" (March 16, 2009) UAB Synopsis. Vol. 28, No. 10
- Williams, Roy L. (July 26, 2010) "Rica Lewis-Payton talks about coming home to run VA hospital." Birmingham News