Tax steward: Former Treasurer Patterson dies

Longtime State Treasurer Grady L. Patterson Jr., a World War II fighter pilot who helped modernize state government, died Monday of natural causes. He was 85.

A quiet man, Patterson was lauded for his expertise in banking, bonds and tax issues - testifying before Congress on the benefits of tax-free municipal bonds.

Patterson has been praised for advocating many financial policies taken for granted today, including a reserve fund to cover state budget shortfalls, an annual debt limit and a requirement that pension funds be used only for retirement purposes.

Patterson, then-Gov. Dick Riley and others partnered in the 1980s to push through the financial reforms.

"South Carolina had some very serious fiscal situations during that period. There were also problems with the economy," Riley said Monday. "Other states were getting into all kinds of protective devices. We came out with our own version of fiscal conservatism, which was passed (by lawmakers). But it wasn't easy."

Patterson was most proud of his reputation as a good steward of tax dollars, his son Leck Patterson said Monday.

"Growing up, he always told me he believed in good government," Leck Patterson said. "I always thought, 'Everyone believes in good government. What's the big deal?'

"But now I know what he meant was to have good people in government, people who cared and looked after the people. The thing he was most proud of was taking care of the taxpayers' money," Leck Patterson said.

At his last State Budget and Control Board meeting in December 2006, Grady Patterson said he was grateful for his time in office.

"It's been a nice ride, and I appreciate it," he said. "I've enjoyed every minute."

Born on a farm in the small town of Calhoun Falls in Abbeville County, Patterson was inspired to become a pilot after seeing planes flying low over his father's cotton field.

Patterson achieved his boyhood dream. During World War II, he was a fighter pilot, flying combat missions from Iwo Jima.

After returning from the Pacific, Patterson completed his bachelor's degree and law degree at USC.

But Patterson still had flying in his blood. He joined the National Guard and spent the next 40 years with the S.C. Air National Guard, serving in the Korean War and the Berlin crisis.

By the time he retired, he had flown every combat plane stationed in South Carolina, from the P-51 to the F-16.

Flying gave Patterson a taste of something otherworldly, Leck Patterson said.

One of his favorite stories to tell his six children was of flying a F-104 Starfighter at a rate of twice the speed of sound, then letting the aircraft coast silently through the clouds.

"He loved that story," Leck Patterson said. "There was something about being able to leave and visit a different kind of world and then return to this one."

The law was his other love.

After finishing law school, Patterson became South Carolina assistant attorney general. For seven years he traveled the state, working on interstate construction litigation.

When State Treasurer Jefferson B. Bates died in office in 1966, state leaders asked Patterson to run for the post, on the basis of his background in county and state funding.

Patterson was elected for the first time that year. He went on to hold the post for a total of 36 years.

After he lost the office in 1994 to now-Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom, Patterson won it back four years later. He was defeated by Thomas Ravenel in November 2006.

Ravenel won, in part, because he convinced voters that Patterson's conservative investments meant the state had missed an opportunity to profit from the bull stock markets in the 1990s and 2000s.

Ravenel later resigned in a drug scandal.

As one of five members of the State Budget and Control Board, Patterson influenced hundreds of state decisions, from selling land and letting contracts to the development of the International Center for Automotive Research in Greenville and helping Gov. Carroll Campbell land BMW's Upstate plant.

"Grady leaves a great legacy of service to the people of South Carolina and the United States," Eckstrom said Monday. "He was a remarkable public servant who truly loved his state."

Other public officials from around the state, including Gov. Mark Sanford, praised Patterson Monday as a humble statesman dedicated to the state and country.

Patterson was married to his wife, Marjorie Faucett Patterson, for nearly 60 years. The couple has six children and 13 grandchildren.

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