L. Brooks Patterson remembered as a politician, family man and friend
Waterford Township — Brave. Passionate. Dedicated. Loving. One-of-a-kind. Larger than life.
L. Brooks Patterson, Oakland County's long-time executive who died on Saturday, was remembered with those words by those who respected him as a politician, family man and friend during a public viewing Tuesday afternoon at the Conference Center of the L. Brooks Patterson Building.
Hundreds of mourners lined up starting at 1 p.m. to pay their respects to Patterson, who died at his Independence Township home after battling pancreatic cancer for several months. He was 80.
In a county office conference room dedicated to Tuesday's gathering, mourners walked by flower arrangements and enlarged photographs of Patterson at work and at play before they arrived at his flag-draped coffin, flanked on each side by a member of the Oakland County Sheriff's honor guard.
Nearby members of Patterson's family, all donning purple ribbons welcomed tearful mourners, including his son, Dr. Dayne Rogers, and daughter, Mary Margaret Patterson Warner.
Warner and Rogers spoke to the media during the public viewing, saying that hearing stories and memories from people all afternoon brought them tears and joy.
"I cry every time someone brings him up," Warner said. "They all have a humorous story. A lot of his employees, they are full of tears because they are going to miss him and they just said 'He is the best person I have ever worked for.'"
Patterson, a polarizing figure who dominated Oakland County politics and government in a career that spanned nearly half a century, also organized fundraisers and created charities.
Rogers said he learned more about his father's charity work and people he helped on Tuesday
"He would help people we never knew he helped," Rogers said. "He was always gone at nights. He wanted to campaign and he wanted to help people. People come tell us stories, and we say we didn't even know that.
"He was large."
Attendees also included notable politicians such as former Gov. Rick Snyder, Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and County Treasurer Andy Meisner.
Snyder said Patterson was an outstanding public servant.
"He did this for decades and look what happened: in terms of sustained leadership, Oakland County is a fabulous place," Snyder said, "one of the best counties in our country, let alone our state. We should be proud of what he built ... and the long-term legacy."
Throughout his career, the colorful, often wisecracking Patterson was the kind of elected official who could light up any room with his mere presence or fire up his critics with an offhand remark, mourners said.
On Tuesday, his supporters laughed, cried and shared stories and memories of Patterson including, county employee Jody Spehar, who works with county veterans services.
Spehar said she has worked for the county for 41 years and volunteered for many of Patterson's charity events. She recalled his dedication to his county staff.
"He loved the employees, he was 100% behind whatever we wanted. I always felt cared for and taken care of," Spehar said. "It's been a great job and a good ride. A lot of that has to do with him."
Dr. Kanu Virani, a county deputy medical examiner, said Patterson was one-of-a-kind.
"I don't think anyone can replace him. We will have to see how the county comes about after him. We are going to miss him for so much," Virani said.
County voters repeatedly returned Patterson to office. He served an unprecedented four terms as prosecutor and an unmatched seven terms as county executive starting in 1992, winning with some of the largest margins in Oakland County history.
Patterson, as Oakland County's prosecutor, hired Greg Townsend to work in the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office in 1983. Townsend said he worked for that office for 28 years.
"He was very determined. He was very confident. He knew what he was going to do," said Townsend, now an assistant attorney general in Michigan. "He was a mentor. I looked up to him. He was an amazing county executive and prosecutor."
Under Patterson’s watch, Oakland County weathered a recession in the early 1980s and reached full employment — under 5% joblessness. He presided over an $893 million annual budget and a county workforce of nearly 4,300 full and part-time benefit-eligible employees.
The fiscal success has been largely credited to Patterson’s self-described “thoughtful management versus crisis management” approach to governing along with his three-year budget with a five-year outlook.
It resulted in Oakland County being ranked among the most digitally advanced counties in America by the Center for Digital Government for the past 13 years because Patterson embraced technology to improve customer service, work more efficiently, and collaborate with other governments.
Shelly Taub was elected to the Oakland County Commission in 1992, the same year Patterson was elected county executive.
"Brooks had a knack for finding the very best people to run his departments. He let them go like crazy," Taub said. "People nationally are overwhelmed at what we have done in this county and especially with our budgeting efforts and the innovative efforts."
Patterson is also survived by a daughter, Shawn Sutherland of Waterford Township, daughter-in-law Jessie Damavoletes; former wife Kathy Patterson; 11 grandchildren, and several nieces and nephews.
Patterson's funeral will both be at Woodside Bible Church on 6600 Rochester Road in Troy. Viewings will be 3-8 p.m. on Aug. 14 and 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on Aug. 15. The funeral will begin after the second day of visitation at 1:30 p.m.
While the visitation and funeral will be open to the public, a burial with full military honors will be private.