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Friends: Judge Patterson was smart, fair, sincere

Brookhaven’s Jim Elliot was at an Ole Miss baseball game earlier this year when he heard a new “Donaldism.” 

That’s what friends of the late Donald Patterson, a career attorney and former chancery judge for Lincoln County, call the stories folks tell about him. This one was told by an old friend’s son, about the night, years ago, the highway patrol took the son to jail for speeding and the family called Patterson to help out.

“Donald had been painting all day and had paint all over him,” said Elliot, 87. “He went down to the jail, and when they opened the door, the boy said, ‘What’d they get you for?’ And Donald said, ‘Boy, I’m your lawyer.’”

There may be a book of “Donaldisms” floating out there between Patterson’s hometown of Monticello and Brookhaven, where he practiced law since the late 1950s; Oxford, where he graduated from the University of Mississippi School of Law; and Jackson, where he lived out his final years before passing away at his home in Brookhaven on Tuesday at 87.

“Donald was a 100 percent individual,” Elliot said. “He was certainly a likable person, and there are a lot of ‘Donaldisms’ people love to tell about what he did here, there and yonder. He was for sure a people’s person, and he was a really good judge and attorney.”

Patterson was born in Monticello in 1930 to Hiram Jerome Patterson and Lida Trawick Alford Patterson. He graduated from Central High School in Jackson and headed off to Ole Miss with his friend Elliot, but he quit school and joined the Navy. 

He would serve as a radio operator in Corpus Christi, Texas, where he won his first car in a game of craps. He married his high school sweetheart, the late Helen Carolyn Givens of Monticello, and finished out his service in Key West, Florida. He came back from the Navy and graduated from law school at Ole Miss.

In 1957, Patterson and his first cousin, the late Emmitt Allen of Brookhaven, opened a law practice together. They would eventually split as friends in the late 60s, with Allen turning the practice into today’s Allen, Allen, Breeland and Allen, and Patterson starting up Jones and Patterson.

“They continued to represent some of the same clients together, like the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors,” said Brookhaven attorney Bob Allen, 71. “Donald was a real student of the law, and he was known around the state for his work in oil and gas. He was a brilliant lawyer.”

Allen respected Patterson’s law skills, but he held his first cousin once removed in high regard for his behavior outside the courtroom, too. Emmett Allen was a strict father, but Patterson was a close ally when it was time for cutting up.

“He was my intervenor,” Allen said. “Donald was my baseball coach, fishing buddy, hunting buddy. He had a good sense of humor, was always a friend and always willing to help people out.”

In 1990, Patterson was elected chancery judge for the 15th Chancery District, serving Copiah and Lincoln counties. Patterson made the news statewide when radio host Paul Harvey reported on his request that someone from Mississippi send him grits in Nevada — he was there undergoing training for judgeship, and he complained none of the restaurants in Reno served them.

He would serve two terms, retiring in 1998, and would continue to serve as special judge on cases as needed statewide.

He also served as advisor to his successor, chancery judge Ed Patten.

“During the eight years he was on the bench and thereafter as one I could call and seek counsel, I learned more about being a lawyer and a chancellor than law school and law practice could ever have offered,” Patten said. “He was a legal scholar, a mentor and a friend.”

Patten said Patterson was one of the best-read legal experts he’s ever known, adding the state bar association missed him when he retired.

“He spoke to the chancery judges’ conference numerous times on the specific rules of hearsay and was really considered an expert among his colleagues on that particular issue,” Patten said. “He had a knack for understanding the rules of evidence few lawyers every attain. He just loved the law.”

Patterson — nicknamed “Mouse” since high school — was also an armchair historian and world traveler. He celebrated his 80th birthday on a tour of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan after reading a book that made him interested in Central Asia.

Patterson had been staying in Jackson with a daughter in his later years, but when the end came, he wanted it to be at his home in Brookhaven. He returned, with family, to his house on Church Street last Saturday and died there Tuesday.

“He wanted to pass away in his own house, which, really, at our age, makes sense,” Elliot said. “When I went by Monday afternoon he was asleep, and I don’t think he ever woke back up.”

Patterson’s visitation begins at 1 p.m. today at Ole Towne Church in Brookhaven, with funeral services following at 3 p.m. Riverwood Family Funeral Services will direct the arrangements.