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Pat Patterson

Educator, missionary, friend

After a valiant three-month struggle with complications from a spinal fracture and lymphoma, Patricia Jeannette Patterson, a resident of Pilgrim Place since December 2000, died peacefully on January 10, 2017 at the Health Services Center of Pilgrim Place. She was 81. 

Born May 3, 1935 as the eldest child of Lester and Hilda Null Patterson, she grew up with a sister and two brothers,  working on their farm near Gamber in Carroll County, Maryland. Always a serious student in every school grade, Ms. Patterson earned a bachelor’s degree in English and education from Western Maryland College, now McDaniel, and a master’s degree in religion and literature from Drew University.

Besides teaching high school English at her alma mater in Westminster, Maryland she worked for almost 40 years with the United Methodist Church in various capacities. She was an educational missionary and associate professor at Aoyama Women’s Junior College and University in Tokyo, Japan from 1957 to 1972. She was called to the New York-based executive staff of the mission board in 1972, with successive positions in Missionary Affairs and as a liaison in programmatic relations with Indochina, Japan and Korea, working to end the war in Viet Nam and consulting with Protestant church leaders, Vietnamese and US negotiators. She also participated in ecumenical support for Korean peace and unification (1972-1990). She was coordinator and executive for the Japan-North American Commission on Cooperative Mission (JNAC), based in New York but including five denominations in the United States, two in Canada and two in Japan (1990-2000).

Pat described the primary influences on her life. “My work as a mission-related person shaped my career and my Christian commitment. The suffering of the Vietnamese in the US war, the struggle of the Korean people for democracy and human rights, and the constancy of women to be fully human despite sexist circumstances, all inspired and shaped me.” She was an active leader of Pilgrim Place programs such as World Affairs and Doing Theology. She also convened the Pomona Valley Peace Network and supported local justice and environmental groups. 

Along with all these endeavors and accomplishments, she was a warm, generous and loyal friend, a great team player and a staunch encourager of others, including her first Bible class of Japanese college students, with whom she was still enjoying a lively relationship lasting six decades. She loved good food, especially Japanese meals at Hayato and Italian spaghetti at Eddie’s. While ailing, she was comforted by soothing classical music. And though she lived most of her life in big cities around the world, her rural origins nourished her love of nature wherever she found herself. For the past 30 years, Pat would retreat to her little house in beloved green Berkshires around Alford, Massachusetts. She wrote hymns and many poems to honor people and events; she published five books of her poetry illustrating her perceptions of the natural world and the world of human relations. Pilgrim Place named her Poet Laureate during its 2015 centenary celebration.  Ruth Harris, her life partner, with whom she collaborated for many years in their professional work in the United Methodist Church, died in 2013.

Her loved ones are grateful for the ministrations of doctors, nurses and caregivers at Pilgrim Place.

Pat (“Trish” to her family) is survived by her sister and brother-in-law, Vivian and Jack Alvrus of Conyers, Georgia, sister-in-law Rosalie Patterson of Gettysburg, sister-in-law Elizabeth Harris May of Phoenix and brother-in-law Guy Harris of Des Moines; nieces Annalisa Alvrus of Tempe, Arizona, Rebekka Alvrus Davis of Snellville, Georgia, Sharon Patterson of Gettysburg, Roxanna May of Phoenix, Catherine May of Tempe and Rebecca Harris of Oakland; nephews Russell Patterson and his wife Joanne of Cosby, Tennessee, Jackson Alvrus and his wife Michelle of Wake Forrest, North Carolina, Philip and Suzanne May of Phoenix, Michael May of Corvallis, Washington and Mark Harris of Nevada, Indiana.

Her memorial service is set for Sunday, February 19 at 3:30 p.m. in Decker Hall of Pilgrim Place. Memorial gifts may be made to the Pilgrim Place Residents Health and Support Program, the Center for Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology (CST); the Institute for Post-Modern Development of China at CST or Uncommon Good, Claremont.