Eugene G. “Pat” Patterson always thought there was something special about the loyalty of Washington State University alumni. Analyzing that phenomenon, he concluded the University’s location, traditions, and residential campus, which provided the opportunity for a 24-hour student experience, were key factors in developing those fierce loyalties.
A Pullman native and WSU graduate himself (’46 Political Science), Patterson served as alumni director at his alma mater for 26 years. When he stepped down in 1978, he said, “Working in a college environment has to be one of the most gratifying experiences one could ever have. Young people with new and differing ideas presented different challenges.”
He enjoyed his association with University administrators, faculty, and staff. He also was a close observer of the Cougar sports scene, and served on the Athletic Council and as part-time golf coach in the late ’60s.
As alumni director, he was credited for his visionary leadership. He established the WSU Scholarship and Development Fund, which raised more than $12 million in endowed, capital, and annual gifts. He also maintained WSU’s graduate records, and helped spearhead a successful $1 million campaign to expand the football stadium, a project completed in time for the 1972 season.
Later he would put his political science degree to work as a state legislator, representing Washington’s 9th District. He proved to be a strong voice for higher education, including WSU, and agriculture. He was elected to the House in 1972 as a Republican and served four two-year terms. Four three-year terms followed in the Senate.
WSU president C. Clement French once said he considered Patterson his “eyes and ears in Olympia.” He was minority whip in the House. He also served on important legislative committees dealing with higher education, transportation, judiciary, local government, and the constitution before retiring from the Senate in 1992.
Patterson died February 15, 2004 in the Avalon Care Center, Pullman, of complications from diabetes. He was 84.
Patterson enrolled at WSU with the Class of ’41 and joined Kappa Sigma fraternity. World War II interrupted his education. He served with distinction as an Army Infantry officer in the South Pacific, including battles at Guadalcanal and New Georgia. His military honors included the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Combat Infantryman’s Badge.
After completing his degree, he spent nearly six years in Seattle as executive secretary and lobbyist for the State Veterans of Foreign Wars organization, before returning to Pullman in 1952. As district chair of the American Alumni Council, he promoted the merger of the AAC and the American College Public Relations Association to create CASE, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. He received the WSU Alumni Achievement Award, 1978, and the CASE District VIII Distinguished Service Award for 1983-84.
As WSU’s primary fund-raiser, he acknowledged that finding new approaches to asking for money was a constant challenge. “I think our success would have been diminished if it hadn’t been for the loyalty of our alumni,” he said.
The youngest of Mattie and David Mitchell Patterson’s six children was born October 8, 1919. He met Maxine Weeks (’46 Fine Arts) at Pullman High School. They married August 31, 1940, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. That union produced four sons and three daughters. Six either attended or graduated from WSU. They also have seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Memorial gifts may be made in Patterson’s name, care of the WSU Foundation, P.O Box 641925, Pullman, Washington 99164-1925.