Harold Leroy Patterson, 92, is a man of many parts, one who has often chosen a road less traveled, somehow arriving where he was meant to be by listening to the voice within him.
A cherished adopted Quinault and preacher in the Indian Shaker Church, he also is an educator who helped preserve the Quinault language and the voices of tribal elders, and a passionate advocate for Indian education statewide and nationally.
Patterson is known to many generations of Harborites, Quinaults, Northwest tribes, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians as a mentor, counselor, teacher and friend. Tribal elders speak highly of his eulogies for their parents and grandparents, young Quinaults write him loving notes on Facebook, where they have gathered to salute him in his last days.
Dying of bone cancer, he’ll leave this world from a hospice bed in the house he built in Brooklyn with his own two hands, surrounded by words and images of praise for his deeds as a preacher, advocate, educator, family man, and as an adopted, full member of the Quinault Nation.
The names that mean most to Harold Patterson are the nickname given to him by tribal members, “Mr. Pat,” and his formal Quinault Tribal name, KEmkEn, or Salmon. Just as the patriarchs and matriarchs in the Bible had their names changed by God, Patterson believes his new names were also ordained, a gift from the Quinaults and his God.
The nickname “Mr. Pat” carries a measure of respect for his work as an educator and advocate for the Quinault Nation, says Pearl Capoeman-Baller, a former tribal president, whom Patterson regards as a daughter. Her picture is close to his bedside.
Capoeman-Baller, who first met Mr. Pat when she was in kindergarten, now considers him a friend, one who showed scrupulous fairness when serving on the Quinault Planning Commission.
One of his last wishes was to partake of Quinault River blueback salmon one more time. She baked one. “Though he no longer has an appetite, I’m sure just tasting the blueback brought back memories of all the wonderful fish bakes he attended,” Capoeman-Baller wrote in an email.
The Quinault enrolled him as a member of their tribe, a rare honor, says Capoeman-Baller and Bishop Leon Strom of the Indian Shaker Church. Patterson, who taught Bible classes for Cornerstone and other area churches, is a devout follower of the Shakers, who number around 1,200 in Washington, says Strom.
The Indian Shakers evolved out of the revelations of a Squaxin Logger in 1880, and the shaking by his wife, which was interpreted as healing, Strom says, adding the group is considered Christian.
“Healing and strength to those grieving,” is what Patterson brought to the Shakers, he said. “He is the premier person to do last rites.”
“He rendered the old chants and prayers with amazing fidelity,” wrote John C. Hughes, now chief oral historian of the Washington State Legacy Project, who met Patterson as a young reporter for The Daily World. Hughes, who was also editor and publisher for many years, was “mightily impressed by his spirituality, wisdom and kindness.”
His sponsor for adoption, Fawn Tadios, then general council for the tribe, says he refused the adoption out of modesty at first. She asked him to reconsider and he did.
“His heart is pure and his words are magical. … His blood is of my blood!” she wrote in an email.
Tadios was typing a book from his journal notes, but it was lost when her computer was stolen. The notes survive. In an entry, dated Nov. 13, 2011, Patterson wrote: “I am Quinault. My Quinault name is KEmkEn.”
The name was given to him by Emmett Oliver, a Quinault tribal elder and influential educator. When the pair worked together in education, Oliver would introduce him this way: “In Indian country we have people we called ‘Apples’ because they are red on the outside and white on the inside. The one I introduce to you is a ‘Salmon.’ He is white on the outside and red on the inside.”
Patterson was presented with a silk-screen print of a salmon emerging from the egg, done by Emmett’s son, Marvin Oliver, when he retired as associate supervisor of Indian education.
“I regard it as my portrait,” Patterson wrote.
Home filled with memories
Comforted by one of his many Indian-themed blankets, Patterson’s bed is center stage in the living room of his home in front of a ceramic wood stove. Windows of an atrium and high ceilings give the sense of a church.
Red geraniums burst out of their planters on the right; aloe and other riotous succulents hold court on the left. Toward the high ceiling is a large painting of New Jerusalem done by his mother, Mary, known as May. Her paintings foretold his life, says friend and caretaker, Dan Small.
Patterson’s tenor is reduced now to whispers and occasional bursts of vocal strength. His sharp blue eyes miss little. His words are few.
Small sometimes interprets for him, keeping him supplied with tea, water, and Diet Pepsi, which he loves, occasionally pulling his leg where advanced bone cancer makes Patterson uncomfortable.
Born in Portland, Ore., Patterson worked odd jobs as a young man, then as a Border Patrol agent and was a gunner in the Army Air Corps. None of his early jobs resonated with that still voice he sought to hear within himself or with the fundamentalist Christian faith with which he wrestled.
Drafted, Patterson entered the Army Air Corps where he was washed out due to a surplus of pilots. As a waist gunner on the B17, he fell in love with his civilian gunnery teacher, Shirley Jean Van Hamm. They married on Dec. 31, 1944.
He found his faith in a California desert and it eventually led him to Taholah where his spirit soared.
Patterson admits he harbored doubts about God, Jesus Christ, and the faith of his parents. “Show her the (other) picture,” he whispers. A Christian interpretation of the 23rd Psalm painted by his mother foretold Harold’s embrace of faith, Small believes.
“Show her my letter,” Mr. Pat says, his voice raspy. The letter to his mother is dated June 7, 1944, from Gardner Field, Calif., where 23-year-old Harold was serving. “…With the starlit sky for my altar, I prostrated myself, and was filled with the Holy Spirit. … I would not have exchanged my place of worship for the most elaborate temple on Earth.”
Patterson went back to work for the Border Patrol. Childless, he and Shirley decided to put faith into action and entered the Bible Institute of Los Angeles and graduated in 1955.
Together, they sought to help Native American tribes first in Alaska, then in Taholah, where spiritually he was ignited.
He worked odd jobs, as “the teacher’s husband,” as his wife obtained emergency, official teaching credentials. He soon earned his own and taught fifth and sixth grades. He was promoted to principal, then superintendent.
He earned his degree from Seattle Pacific University (as it is known today) and a master’s in Indian Education from the University of Washington. He and Shirley worked to improve education opportunities on the Harbor.
As a salmon swims upstream, Patterson says he fights conventional wisdom when he hears that clear, still voice within, a voice that has guided him to stand up to the status quo as he lived and worked on the Harbor for close to 60 years.
He fought not to have Quinault schools integrated during the civil rights movement so that their heritage could be protected. He made sure the language was taught in school. He also worked to make the language written and helped create a Quinault dictionary.
Patterson and his wife both worked to preserve the Quinault language, saving tapes with the voices of the elders, son Mark wrote in email.
In 1972, when he began traveling to work in Indian education statewide, Patterson found the land in Brooklyn, near the North River. The cabin, which was in rough shape, had been built in year of his birth, 1920.
For years after he left Taholah, his father still commuted the 75 miles from Brooklyn. “Dad said the house was a parable of his life,” notes son Bruce. It had been built without a foundation and needed a lot of work. He built a new one, expanded the size, raised and built a new roof. As recently as two years ago, Mark would find him rebuilding decks by himself, Small said.
Bruce, 59, became one of the first students of the kindergarten and a second son, Mark, 52, became one of the first to attend the pre-school at Taholah School, both of which were nationally recognized. Foster children from the tribe often lived with them. “I have one biological brother, but Dad has several thousand sons and daughters,” Bruce writes.
Cherie Patterson, Mark’s wife, remembers Patterson strolling over one night to their home next door where they were singing songs. He sang “with a booming voice a Shaker song. Everyone froze with eyes fixed on Harold. Although we did not understand the words, we were all very moved.”
Asked if he has anything to add, Patterson says: “The book.” It’s a large tome penned by Patterson entitled: “Thy Kingdom Come, A Biblical Study of the Last Things. The Eschatology of the Kingdom.”
Asked if it tells about a reign of peace or destruction, Dan Small smiles and says “yes.”
“It’s on Amazon,” the author says in a stronger voice. And indeed it is, discounted slightly with one left and “more (copies) on the way.”
Patterson’s earthly speech will soon be silenced, yet his words will live in the stories and the traditions of the Quinault. Bells will ring, candles will be lit, and perhaps there will be trembling before the Indian Shaker altar as Bishop Strom leads the funeral.
Just as Harold Leroy Patterson, Mr. Pat, KEmkEn, sang the last blessings, chants, and prayers for so many, so his tribes — Quinault, familial, and religious — will sing him to his rest.