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A longtime Oakland County employee was named deputy executive Monday, filling a vacancy resulting from the death Saturday of longtime county Executive L. Brooks Patterson.

Laurie Van Pelt, who has worked for the county for more than 40 years, was chosen by new County Executive Gerald Poisson, who had been chief deputy executive and succeeded Patterson in the county's top elected post.

Van Pelt, who heads the county's office of management and budget, is the first woman and first Japanese American to hold the deputy executive's job. Robert Daddow, who had been deputy executive, was named chief deputy executive.

Patterson, who died at age 80 of pancreatic cancer, treated others as equals, Van Pelt said. 

"With Brooks, titles didn't matter," she said. "He would ask me questions if it was in my department or not, and he treated me like an equal. He was a visionary and did grand things." 

Van Pelt said she considered Patterson a mentor and that he worked to make Oakland County's government more diverse. She said she would continue Patterson's legacy, giving it the "respect it deserves."

"I don't think he's been given the public recognition he deserves. He was so progressive in developing his staff he thought were talented," Van Pelt said. "He didn't hesitate to promote them no matter of their gender or race. He saw people for people." 

Van Pelt started her career in Oakland County government in 1978 as a typist at the county's 4-H office. Using the county's tuition reimbursement program, she worked her way through school, attending classes part-time. She earned her bachelor's degree in accounting at Oakland University and her master's in finance at Walsh. 

Van Pelt worked as a stenographer and committee reporter at the Board of Commissioners in the 1980s before becoming budget analyst in 1987. In 1994, Val Pelt served as Chief of fiscal services at Oakland County Community Mental Health, and in 1997 became the administrator at Oakland County Health Division. Patterson appointed Van Pelt as deputy director of the county's office of management and budget in 2000. Two years later, Patterson appointed her director of the office.

During the time of transition, Van Pelt said she will still direct the office of management and budget. Adding to her responsibilities, Van Pelt will assist in times of county executive absence. 

"(My role) expanded a little bit, as I now have direct authority, but I don't see that as different as I've always worked as a team with them," Van Pelt said.  

Van Pelt moved to Oakland County 43 years ago after her father retired from the U.S. Navy. She was born at a U.S. naval base in Japan and lived for a time in Alameda, California, near San Francisco. In the 1970s, California had a substantial Asian and Asian-American population, while Oakland County did not. 

"When you're half-something, you don't feel like you quite fit in," Van Pelt said. 

Oakland County began to become more diverse when Japanese automakers came to the area in the 1980s, a trend that has continued, she said.

"The fabric of the community has changed and become so much richer," Van Pelt said.

Van Pelt said Patterson would travel abroad to recruit businesses to Oakland County, which has more than 1,100 international businesses from 39 countries. 

"I'm excited for the opportunity, but sad we've lost Brooks," Van Pelt said. "I feel very humbled and wish Brooks was still there. I can't find the words to convey the sadness about this." 

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