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Okey L. Patteson

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Gov. Okey L. Patteson
The 42nd Annual Governors' Conference, held at the Greenbrier Hotel
The Patteson house on Main St, Mount Hope, W.Va., circa 1927
A 1931 newspaper advertisement for the Patteson Garage Co. with Patteson misspelled as "Patterson"
Faint lettering on the Patteson Garage building in Mount Hope, WV
In 1959, Blackburn-Patteson offered "free" land in the New River Gorge
Gov. Patteson with Admiral Ross McIntire in 1954

Born at Dingess, in Mingo County, on September 14, 1898, Okey Leonidas Patteson was raised at Mount Hope, in Fayette County. In 1899 his family moved to Mount Hope where his father, Leonidas C. Patteson, opened mercantile business and soon afterwards opened a hardware business. At that time the coalfields surrounding Mount Hope had just been opened to development and the town was experiencing a period of great economic boom. Patteson's family lost their business and home to the great fire of 1910, which consumed practically all of Mt. Hope, but rebuilt soon afterwards.

Patteson attended public schools in Mount Hope. After receiving a B.A. degree from Wesleyan College, Patteson did post-graduate work at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh, Pa. After graduation Patteson was a First Sergeant in the West Virginia National Guard for two years. With the financial backing of his father, Patteson opened an automotive sales and repair business in Mount Hope, the Patteson Garage Company, which was established in 1923. The company sold and serviced Ford automobiles and was marketed as "the largest and best equipped garage in Fayette County." In June of 1923 Patteson married June Hawse. Patteson and his wife would have two daughters -- Fanny Lee and Anna Hughes.

In 1932, Patteson was involved in a hunting accident that forced the amputation of both legs below his knees. He was able to overcoming this physical challenge, and throughout his life, Patteson spent much time in efforts to help and encourage others who had suffered the loss of limbs. Interestingly, a local traditional account of Patteson's accident and recovery states that Patteson was taken to local hospital following his accident, and that after learning his legs had been amputated he became extremely depressed, to the point of refusing to consider rehabilitation or physical therapy. Until one day, when a stranger came to visit. The stranger burst into Patteson's hospital room unannounced, and asked Patteson why he was depressed. Before the startled Patteson could answer the stranger suddenly started dancing across the floor. The stranger then demanded of Patteson, "Is there why you're depressed... because you think you won't be able do things -- like dance, ever again?" But before the shocked Patteson could reply the stranger lifted his leg, putting it back down on Patteson's bed, in one graceful motion while pulling up one leg of his pants, exposing a prothesis. The stranger explained that he was a World War I veteran who'd lost both legs in the war, who was now spending his free time by helping others who had lost limbs. Supposedly, this act of "tough love" inspired Patteson to begin physical therapy and rehabilitation and to repeat a similar performance for many other physically challenged persons over the years that followed.

Patteson's political career apparently began following his accident. From 1935 to 1941 Patteson was President of Fayette County Court and held the office of Sheriff of Fayette County from 1941 to 1945. Patteson also served on Mount Hope City Council for 12 years, and a member of the board of directors of the Mount Hope Chamber of Commerce. Patteson also entered into new business ventures. On Feb. 28, 1938, Mt. Hope Motors, Inc. was incorporated by Okey L. Patteson and J. A. Blackburn. Both men lived in Mount Hope, which was the city in which the company was headquartered. Patteson soon afterwards partnered with Blackburn on another venture. Patteson sold his automobile sales and repair company in 1944, but formed the Blackburn--Patteson Realty Company on April 13 of that same year. The company's main offices were located in Mount Hope, WV until 1962, when they were moved Bradley, WV.

Patteson served as state Democratic campaign manager for Clarence Watson Meadows during his campaign in the 1944 gubernatorial election. After taking office, Gov. Meadows appointed Patteson to the position of Executive Assistant to Governor. Patteson was a member of West Virginia Democratic State Executive Committee in 1945. During the years he worked as executive assistant to the governor Patteson became increasingly aware of the need for improvements to and maintenance of West Virginia's roads and highways. In 1947, the State legislature approved appropriation of funds to study the feasibility of building a modern highway across West Virginia. Patteson was said to have been actively involved in the feasibility study which ultimately would result in the construction of the West Virginia Turnpike.

Patteson resigned as executive assistant to Governor Clarence Meadows to run for governor on Jan. 1, 1948. A political tradition of Fayette County states that Patteson had no plans or desire to run for the office of governor, but that he was encouraged to do so because the Democratic "machine" was widely split on their choice of a candidate for governor in the 1954 election. Patteson seemed the perfect "compromise" candidate, with wide appeal among both conservative and liberal Democrats leaders and the labor unions, and a reputation for being able to resolve party differences on issues with Republicans leaders of West Virginia.

In November of 1948, Patteson (D) defeated Herbert S. Boreman (R) of Parkersburg in the West Virginia governor's race by a vote total of 438,752 to 329,309. On Jan. 17, 1949 Patteson was inaugurated as the twenty-third West Virginia governor, a position in which he would serve though January of 1953. In October of 1949, Patteson organized the state Turnpike Commission to oversee the construction of the West Virginia Turnpike. Roads and road building enjoyed popular support in West Virginia during the post-war period. The state's voters had approved a $50 million road bond on the 1948 ballot and "better roads" were viewed by many as the key to a brighter economic future for West Virginia.

In June of 1950, Gov. Patteson served as host governor of the 42nd Annual Governors' Conference held at the Greenbrier Hotel (now the Greenbrier Resort) in White Sulphur Springs, WV. In August of 1950, Patteson was invited to address the President's Committee on Employment of the Physically Handicapped in Washington, D.C. In 1951, he received a national citation for outstanding service to the physically handicapped. That same year he was named as "West Virginian of the Year" for the year 1951 by the Charleston Gazette. In the 1950s, when the GOP uncovered a handwritten letter from Robert Byrd to the KKK Imperial Wizard regarding Byrd's participation in the Klan, Patteson personally urged him to drop out of the race. Byrd did not take Patteson's advice and did win reelection.

In 1952, the Legislature enacted the "Soft Drink Tax" to pay for the construction, maintenance and operation of a four-year school of medicine, dentistry and nursing in West Virginia. The location of the facility was a topic of great dispute. Supporters of West Virginia University lobbied for the WVU Board of Governors to decide the location, while others wanted the empower governor to make the decision. Supporters favoring locating the school in Charleston (or Huntington) seemed confident that Gov. Patteson (of Fay. Co.) would decide in their favor, however to their dismay Gov. Patteson decided to make the school a part of West Virginia University, in Morgantown. Patteson's decision remains controversial to this date.

After leaving office Patteson continued his involvement with his real estate business. On Feb. 4, 1954, Patteson was named general manager of the West Virginia Turnpike Commission by Gov. Marland. On Feb. 10, 1956 Patteson resigned his position, and announced he would serve as campaign manager for the Democratic anti-administration candidate, J. Howard Myers. Shortly afterwards, Patteson publicly denounced Governor Marland for his handling of the Turnpike Commission and state he regretted supporting him in the 1952 election. The West Virginia Turnpike was completed in November of 1954, but the road deviated greatly from the original plan. Originally conceived as a four-lane highway from Princeton to Wheeling, the West Virginia Turnpike ended up being built as a two-lane highway that ended at Charleston.

On October 13, 1959, Big Eight Development was incorporated in West Virginia by Okey L. Patteson, of Mt. Hope; M. Haddad, of Summersville; and others. The company was headquartered in Beckley, WV. Patteson was named president of the Raleigh County Bank, in Beckley, WV, and was as a member of the National Advisory Council of the Federal Civil Defense Administration. In 1969, Governor Arch Moore, Jr. (R) named Patteson to the Board of Regents. Patteson, along with fellow former governors Hulett Smith (D) and Arch Moore, Jr. (R) shared the speakers stand with Gov. Jay Rockefeller (D) during the dedication of the New River Gorge Bridge on October 27, 1977. Patteson died on July 3, 1989 in Beckley, WV.