Pat Patton

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Longtime Democratic activist Pat Patton dies

By Jim Morrill
[email protected]

Posted: Thursday, Sep. 20, 2012

Pat Patton, one of North Carolina's most loyal, feisty and blunt-spoken Democrats, died Thursday, two weeks after watching the Democratic National Convention wrap up in her adopted hometown.

She died at 94 from the effects of a stroke, according to her daughter, Pamela Terry.

Patton remained active until the end, attending a Democratic Women's Club meeting last week. She was, says state Rep. Tricia Cotham, "the life of the Democratic Party."

Patton held official roles in the Mecklenburg County party, once serving as acting chair. She'd been a national convention delegate as well as leader of a Democratic women's group.

But it was in an unofficial role that she made her mark. She was the party's go-to person, the one who kept its machinery greased and the first one candidates sought out.

"If you were running for statewide office and you went to Mecklenburg County, you went to see Pat Patton right off," says former four-term Gov. Jim Hunt. "I did every time I ran."

No one in the county, adds Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, "gave more of her time, energy and passion for Democratic elected officials."

"If she called on you," he says, "you always knew it was important and you did what she asked."

When businessman Cameron Harris first became county party chair in the late 1980s, he tapped Patton to run the day-to-day affairs. She recruited candidates, nurtured precinct organizations and even directed Harris' financial contributions.

"As long as I was involved in Democratic politics she made sure we gave to the right people," Harris says. "She knew who we could count on and who we couldn't."

To fellow Democrats, Patton was straight-talking and candid. She once said of some party volunteers: "They're unacceptable in my book, I'll be honest with you." To Republicans, she could be bitingly partisan.

In 2004, at 84, she was a delegate to the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston when she spotted a familiar face in the ladies' room.

"You look familiar," she told the blond woman. "Are you famous? Have I seen you on TV?"

"You wouldn't like me," the woman replied. "I'm a Republican."

Later on the convention floor, it dawned on Patton that the other woman was none other than Ann Coulter, the conservative pundit and author. So she trekked off to a TV booth and tracked her down.

"You're right, I don't like you," she told Coulter, calling her a word that rhymes with witch. "You need to get a life."

Patton, a Mississippi native, got her start in politics early.

Her father had been a local school superintendent and judge. As a child, she campaigned with him, handing out leaflets and going to county fairs. She married Jack Patton, an industrial chemist whose job took them to Alabama and Tennessee before coming back to a small town on the Mississippi coast.

A new job brought the family to Charlotte in 1955.

Despite her childhood involvement in politics, Patton traced her activism to another episode.

When she went to enroll her son Jimmy in school in Mississippi, she found 57 students jammed into his second-grade class. She appealed to the school board for another school. No money, she was told. So she started a petition drive for a bond referendum, which won overwhelmingly.

"It was the most fun I ever had, beating that school board," she once said. "I was taught that if something needed to be done, all you had to do was get one person exercised about it. That's what politics is all about – improving the world."

Two weeks ago, Patton was glued to her TV until late at night watching President Obama and other Democrats on the last night of the convention.

"She so looked forward to Charlotte hosting the DNC," Foxx says. "I'm glad she was given enough time to see it through."

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at Myers Park United Methodist Church. A reception will follow in Jubilee Hall.

Morrill: 704-358-5059
Published in Charlotte Observer from Sept. 20 to Oct. 19, 2012
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