September 20, 2021

Oscar Elmer “Pat” Patterson – 1915-2009


Fifty-year Topanga resident Pat Patterson passed away a week before his 94th birthday.


Oscar Elmer “Pat” Patterson – 1915-2009

Pat Patterson and Pirro, circa1940.

Parents, housewife Katherine Holden and Elmer Patterson raised him in Ilion, New York, along with his older siblings Durland and Ruth. The small town was home to many families like the Pattersons who worked for gun manufacturer Remington Arms.

Since Pat’s father grew up on a farm, he had a prolific garden where chickens happily scratched the dirt between the vegetables and fruit trees. His mother filled the basement with bottles of preserved produce and bought little in the local store. She was known in the neighborhood for her wonderful homemade chicken, bread, pies, and cakes. She also was the one the neighbors turned to for help with medical problems, although she wasn’t a certified nurse.

At Ilion High School Pat enjoyed gym class but had no favorites among the academic subjects. He was an outstanding figure skater with a love of baseball, football and hiking. He found that he was comfortable doing school plays and commenced the hobby of putting on puppet shows. Little did he know at the time that puppets would help put him through college!

Pirro, a lively clown puppet dangling at the end of strings, was born. With Pirro’s help Pat toured the country giving 15-minute shows at parties and nightclubs and was able to pay his tuition at the University of Kentucky. Before going to Kentucky he attended an extension class at the Syracuse University where he met Betty, the love of his life, in the 1930s.

Betty stayed in New York while Pat studied and got drafted near the beginning of World War II. He had to stop attending classes and received his army training in Georgia. Due to his leadership skills he was chosen to attend officer candidate school. From there he was assigned to a chemical warfare unit and became the commanding officer of African-American (then referred to as Black) troops. From this experience he felt as if he learned a lot about himself.

When 1943 rolled around, Pat decided that it was time to get married. Betty’s father, a medical missionary in China where Betty lived as a child, and her mother agreed that the timing was right. A small wedding took place in the family home during one of Pat’s leaves.

After his service in the Army, Pat wanted to finish his education. Pat, Betty, and Pirro set off across the United States in an old car pulling a small house trailer and gave shows all the way to San Francisco. Pirro’s success allowed them to move to Los Angeles so Pat could get his master’s degree in filmmaking at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Betty “held his hand” throughout and helped him set goals after the army. She was a real “partner” who believed in Pat and helped him succeed.

UCLA Extension hired him to produce educational films. He also participated in government research in the field of automobile safety. While working in the academic world he joined the National University Film Association that involved national and international meetings and conventions. Eventually he became president of the association.

Upon retiring from UCLA, Pat joined a university friend who was starting a small company to make identification bracelets. The product became a “real winner” and the ID bracelets are used all over the world in hospitals, rock concerts, cruise ships, etc. He worked in a management position until he was well into his 70’s.

Pat and Betty felt that they had found a little piece of heaven when they moved to the small rural community of Topanga and lived for the next 50 years in a tiny cottage nestled under the oak trees. Life was rich with adventures like walking the beautiful hills looking for Indian artifacts, playing with the cocker spaniels, or tending the flowers and vegetables in the garden.

Pat inspired many generations of colleagues, family, and friends with his positive attitude, expertise in art composition, photography, and love of learning. He delighted in looking up “new” words in his huge dictionary. He encouraged more than one person to get an education and set goals for a satisfying career.

After the loss of Betty, Pat’s health declined and he needed home nursing. Stephanie Jex entered his life and not only nursed him back to health but became a very supportive friend who helped him move into an assisted living facility in the San Fernando Valley. She and the neighbors had the sad task of downsizing a household of 50 years of memories to a single room where he was surrounded by his favorite things and had excellent care.

As the years passed by, Pat reminisced about Pirro; his fascinating experiences of dealing with the Black troops, which he greatly admired; and living a quiet life in Topanga among friendly neighbors surrounded by flowers and guarded by towering oaks.