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Giving thanks for Oxford Mayor Patterson

Oxford remains a small enough city that if one lands at the Memphis airport without a ride home, odds of finding one from a friend heading toward home are not that bad.

That’s what I was hoping for last weekend, when I landed late Sunday evening in Memphis without a car or means of getting back to Oxford. It was just after 9:30 p.m. when the plane landed and I could see a familiar stroll up ahead in the terminal, making his way toward the luggage drop.

When I caught up to Mayor Pat Patterson, a friend since the age of 9, not more than three minutes had passed in discussion until he offered me a ride home — a ride I readily accepted.

The hour-long drive to Oxford was appreciated in more ways than the obvious (no rental car.) For the first time in years, Pat Patterson and I had time to talk about nothing in particular, which inevitably led to the things that matter most.

Years of friendship can be hard to frame by the moment, but when the opportunity comes to reflect on years that have gone by and everything sandwiched in between, it becomes easier to see the scope and value of it.

Our relationship began in about 1975, an era when a close friend from a few streets over was ironically Jeff Busby, who later became a business partner and close friend of Patterson’s.

Patterson was my first youth ball coach. I had been timid about joining a team at the age of 9, since I was still quite shy in those days. Painfully so, is what they call it.

My mother had approached Pat, not many years out of college but already understanding of the value in working with young people, and explained that I was afraid to join the team and might need some encouragement.

He delivered quite well, in what I have come to know as typical Pat Patterson style — never getting too close and personal, but consistently encouraging at each practice and game with positive influence so that I felt comfortable enough to come back for more.

A couple of years later I watched him become a friend and role model of sorts to the entire youth neighborhood after he got the concession stand management contract to run a popular community youth baseball park.

It was a moneymaking enterprise for Patterson — of course — but so much more.

And he did quite well at the moneymaking and the more. Patterson ran a hamburger grill just outside of the concession stand and the smoke billowed behind the backstop, beckoning us all to pay a visit.

He had a staff of youth he paid in quarters and free food and encouraged like a cheerleader pushing the team forward. He enjoyed the activity of youth and competition and moneymaking that was all coated in a wonderful char-grilled smell.

He would give free snow cones for home runs over the fence and high fives if he heard from the cheers that we had gotten a big hit or a nice catch.

Most summer nights we ate our meals at the park, dining on Pat’s hamburgers and pairing those with dill pickles and sometimes a candy bar for dessert.

Snickers were popular.

“I made a lot of money in that concession stand,” he recalls.

He made a lot of friends, too, and Patterson frequently gave those of us who lived nearby rides home after long nights of games at the ballpark and he never complained, that we knew about.

Patterson and I remained friends through the years and the community was so small that didn’t take much effort. I remember going by University Sporting Goods to say hello the first day he purchased that business on the Oxford Square, and he appreciated the stop by.

Years later, we even took a trip or two here or there, enjoying talking about local business and politics.

It hasn’t always been easy. When something in business or the media struck him as wrong, he wasn’t shy about delivering one of his patented verbal lashes.

Not long ago, for instance, I was in a room of random people and someone took a poll of how many people had ever been chewed out by Mayor Patterson. I think everybody raised a slight hand.

We all laughed.

I have never taken those personally, mostly because he was probably right, and I remember the rides home and all the good he’s done for me, and for Oxford, from running concession stands decades ago to running the city of Oxford more recently as mayor.

I’m glad to know he’s still giving rides home. And, I am fortunate that I was able to catch one once again.

David Magee is Publisher of The Oxford Eagle. You can reach him at david.magee@oxfordeagle.com.