Hundreds pay respects to Patterson

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 3, 2007

One after the other, funeral goers solemnly pinned the small red badge onto their shirts, proud to display the words that Lawrence County Commissioner George Patterson offered after learning that his battle with cancer was one he couldn’t win.

“I’ll be OK either way,” the 67-year-old Kitts Hill resident told long-time friend Keith Molihan, only after being assured that that his wife of 45 years, Mary, would be taken care of.

Every pew was filled and nearly every eye was moist Thursday as more than 350 people from all walks of life said goodbye to Patterson, a public servant that friends said will be remembered first and foremost as a good friend, a dedicated family man, and a devoted Christian.

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“ I am proud to say he was my friend,” said Patterson’s pastor Larry Casteel. “George was a friend to everybody.”

Scripture and song were used to honor the man who holds the distinction of being the longest serving commissioner in the county’s history, having been elected six times.

Dozens of photos lined the entryway at St. Joseph Catholic Church, each capturing a moment in the life of the politician who served his country in the U.S. Marines and raised a sizeable family that includes seven children and 16 grandchildren.

“Our family will remember him as a loving father that gave us countless memories,” Patterson’s son, Gene, said.

Story after story was told, most of which painted humorous pictures of the man loved ones say never met a stranger. From the tale of a goose clamping onto his nose to a story of him relentlessly teasing referees at basketball games, it was clear that Patterson’s legacy will me measured by far more than just his political accomplishments.

“He taught me to always stand up for what you believe in, always stand up for people,” Molihan said. “And George did that. Many times.”

“He had a love for Lawrence County and his country and I am not sure that I have met anyone that could match it. And he lived it, day and night.”

Patterson was recently memorialized for his public service when a portion of County Road 1 in Burlington was designated as the George Patterson Parkway. The tribute was the work of the Concerned Citizens of Burlington in recognition of Patterson’s support for projects that benefited the community.

In December 2005, Patterson was honored with a plaque and Sugar Maple tree on the courthouse lawn.

Patterson was first sworn in as commissioner in 1983. He served one term and lost an election. In 1990 he won election again and had served five consecutive terms since then.

“According to scripture, when we pass from this life, we are just beginning to live,” Pastor Casteel said.

While row after row of cars in the funeral procession prepared to carry Patterson to his resting place in Calvary Cemetery in Coal Grove, “God Bless America” played softly through the church, a fitting tribute to the man loved ones said treasured both God and country.