Politicians remember Rep. John Patton as a kind, gentle man who cared deeply about the people of Wyoming.
The Sheridan Republican died Sunday afternoon from pulmonary failure at Sheridan Memorial Hospital, said his son, Bill Patton.
He was 84.
Patton served in the Wyoming Legislature four times since the 1960s. His most recent position began in the House in 2009.
In 1971, Patton helped create the Legislative Service Office, a non-partisan staff that assists lawmakers with research, legal opinions and clerical duties. He was also undersecretary of transportation from 1975 to 1977 under President Gerald Ford.
Patton had a heart attack Feb. 17, while in Cheyenne for the 2015 General Session of the Wyoming Legislature. Doctors at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center inserted a stent, but lung problems followed. He was released from the Cheyenne hospital last week and moved to the Sheridan hospital, where he died, Bill Patton said.
“John Patton was a wonderful Wyoming man and a thoughtful, hard-working legislator who set a positive example for his colleagues,” said Gov. Matt Mead in a statement. “He loved Wyoming and it showed in his service. I was not at all surprised to find him still working during a recent visit at the hospital. We are sorry to lose a friend and great public servant.”
Mead ordered the Wyoming state flag be flown at half-staff at the Capitol in Cheyenne and in Sheridan County until sundown Saturday.
Sen. Bernadine Craft, D-Rock Springs, said she will remember Patton’s quiet dignity and moderate approach to issues.
Craft recalled the last conversation they had before his health issues. They were walking to the parking garage beneath the Capitol and chatted about his work as chairman of the House Education Committee.
“He was talking about how he wanted his committee to be a place of respect, where people enjoy being there and how all sides would be heard,” she said. “I remember him talking eloquently about that.”
Craft, an Episcopal priest, said she and Patton, also Episcopalian, discussed faith privately, but he was not one to boast about it in public.
“He didn’t talk a lot about being an active Christian,” she said. “But everything he did underscored it, with his kindness and dignity. He was a person who didn’t have to talk about his faith because he lived his faith.”
Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, said when he was the city’s mayor a decade ago, he invited Patton to teach council members about parliamentary procedure – the rules behind speaking only when addressed, voting on measures only after someone makes a motion, and how to keep on-topic during a debate.
The rules are tedious, but they’re necessary to ensure business is done, Kinskey said.
“He was a stickler for civil debate and the process (of debate,)” Kinskey said. “He did his homework, he studied. He believed very much in the legislative process.”
During Patton’s early terms in the Legislature, he revised many of the legislative rules, said U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, who previously served in the state Legislature. Enzi said he learned from Patton’s emphasis on the rules.
“When I first ran for the U.S. Senate, he was an adviser, again emphasizing the importance of the rules,” Enzi said in a statement. “When I became a senator I volunteered to chair the Senate any time they would let me, in order to have access to the parliamentarian to learn the rules. It has paid off multiple times.”
In his non-legislative life, Patton worked in insurance and as a stock broker. He also worked at the Citizens Conference on State Legislatures, an organization that preceded the National Conference of State Legislatures, which provides state lawmakers across the country training on how to be effective.
Bill Patton said the family doesn’t quite remember how Patton was spotted by Ford’s people, but geography may have helped. Patton was undersecretary for interdepartmental affairs in the U.S. Department of Transportation at the time.
The family story goes like this: “Ford was asking for people to fill his administration and he asked, ‘Don’t we know anyone west of the Mississippi?’ His aide said, ‘There’s John Patton.’ And Ford said, ‘Is he the tall, blond guy from Wyoming?... Call him up.’”
Patton is survived by his wife, Virginia, and his children and grandchildren.