Sunday, September 25, 2011

#268 / Philips B. Patton

My father, Philips Bowerman Patton, was born on September 25, 1914. I am thinking of him today.

He and my mother, Alma Bracken Patton, had four kids: Gary, Nancy, Richard, and Elizabeth. Neither of my parents is still alive, but the kids are all still around, in various states of repair or disrepair. All of the Patton children have children of their own, and the Patton siblings are clustered, mostly, right here in Santa Cruz County. My sister Nancy is the outlier, being the joint proprietor (with her husband Rick) of an incredibly lovely bed and breakfast/artist's studio in Montmirail, France. Plan to spend some time at Maison Conti when you are in the vicinity!

My father was born in Santa Rosa, California, and apparently his father, and my paternal grandfather, William R. Patton, was something of a ne'er do well. I am not much clear on the family's peregrinations during the early years of my father's life, but by the time my father was thirteen or fourteen years old he was living in Saint Anthony, Idaho with his mother, Clara Olney Philips, and his sisters, Marjorie, Ruth, and Jo. The family was living, as I understand it, in a home that was owned by my great grandfather (my grandmother's father), since William R. Patton was apparently not around very much.

During the last year that my father spent in Saint Anthony he entered a contest sponsored by American Boy magazine. The assignment was to write a letter to the son of Rin Tin Tin, a famous movie dog, telling Rin Tin Tin's son (Geri was his name) why this little puppy would just love to come and live with the writer. My father won this national contest, and Geri did move, at least briefly, to Saint Anthony. It was a great moment in my Dad's early life, but was made bittersweet because my father was forced to return Geri to his trainer when my grandmother died, shortly after Geri arrived in Saint Anthony.

After his mother's death, my Dad was sent to live with his older sister, my Aunt Marjorie, in San Francisco, where my father attended Polytechnic High School, and where he met my mother. Instant romance is not what happened there, at least not on my Mother's part. My father, though, was persistent, and his assiduous love letters (which my mother kept) were another demonstration of his writing abilities, and of his determination.

My Dad's first job (he never went to college) was as a Western Union messenger boy. He worked himself up in the Western Union hierarchy until, during the early years of World War II, my Father found himself the manager of a small Western Union office in San Francisco. At that time, Western Union played a major role in the communications industry, and Western Union facilities were much used by the War Department. Noting that the federal government wasn't making the most efficient use of Western Union's capabilities, my Father wrote a letter to President Roosevelt, outlining some changes that he thought that the government should make. The President referred my Dad's letter to the Federal Communications Commission (the FCC), and my Father then received a call from the FCC, asking him to move to Washington, DC and to take a job there.

Naturally, this was a thrilling opportunity for my Dad and Mom, and they took their recently born son (me), and promptly drove across country to the nation's Capitol. Unfortunately, when he reached Washington, and the FCC found out that my father had only a high school education, the FCC told him that they wouldn't hire him after all. My Dad went back to work at Western Union, in Washington, but this was only for a short time, because he persisted in trying to work for the FCC, and was ultimately successful. My Dad did serve in the Navy during the war, and spent time on Espiritu Santo, an island in the New Hebrides. After the war, he and my mother moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where my Father worked for Farnsworth Electric, and where my sister Nancy was born.

My Mother was not thrilled with Fort Wayne. She had grown up in San Francisco, and wanted to move back to California, and specifically to the San Francisco Bay Area. Since my Father was working in sales for Farnsworth, he traveled a bit, and happened to attend a trade show in Florida somewhere, where he met up with two young men who had just started an electronics firm located in San Carlos, California. My father talked with them at the trade show, and tried to get a job, but the firm only had four employees total at that time, including the two founders, and they told my Father that they couldn't hire him. My Dad returned to Fort Wayne, talked to my Mother, and they decided that my Father should quit his job with Farnsworth. He moved the family, with no guarantees, to Redwood City, and showed up in the San Carlos offices of the Lenkurt Electric Company (named for founders Len Erickson and Kurt Appert). My Father renewed his appeal. Same answer: no job. My Father then volunteered to work for Lenkurt for free (offer accepted). He initially rewrote some of the company's sales materials and instruction manuals. He ended up as the Vice President for International Sales.

When Lenkurt was bought out by General Telephone, in 1960, my Father decided to "retire," and to become a gentleman farmer in Santa Cruz, where he and my Mother purchased Wildwood, a lovely forty-acre place off Vine Hill Road. The family officially moved there in 1961. That means that I have been a Santa Cruz County resident, now, for exactly fifty years.

As it turned out, my father didn't really like "retirement" much, and decided to become a lawyer. He couldn't get into Stanford Law School, because they wouldn't take a student with only a high school diploma. He went to Santa Clara Law School, instead, where he was number two in his class. My father was just one year ahead of me in law school (I did go to Stanford - where I was definitely not at the top of the class), and when he graduated, and passed the Bar, he opened a law practice in Santa Cruz in 1970, in an office building located at the corner of Locust and Cedar Streets, where a public parking garage now stands. Both of his sons are lawyers, and both had an opportunity to work alongside him in the practice of law.

At some point along the way, my Father told me that his objectives in life had been to have a good, stable family, and to maintain himself and his family economically. That was something he had missed when he was growing up.

My Father also told me (many times) that "if you don't have a dream, Gary, you can't have a dream come true."

He was a great writer. He was persistent. And he did have a dream.

Thank you, Dad! I am thinking of you today.




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