Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson Legacy of Leadership

Longtime leader remembered for dedication, passion and foresight

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson died Aug. 3 at his Independence Township home surrounded by family and friends.

The 80-year-old had been battling pancreatic cancer.

“It is with deep sadness that I report the passing of our friend and county executive, L. Brooks Patterson,” said Gerald D. Poisson, former chief deputy county executive. He has been sworn in to serve as Patterson’s successor until the Oakland County Board of Commissioners appoints a replacement within 30 days or a special election is held as provided by law. “He was a once-in-a-generation leader whose vision inspired all of us to be part of the best county government in America.”

Leading Oakland County

At the time of his death, Patterson was over halfway through an unprecedented seventh term as county executive that began Jan. 1, 1993.

Presiding over a $893 million annual budget (FY2019) and a county workforce of nearly 4,300 full- and part-time employees, he transformed the county with his 21st Century vision and no-nonsense style of leadership. His mission was to make Oakland County one of the best places to live, work, play and raise a family — and the results speak for themselves.

Photos courtesy of Oakland County

During his 26-plus years in office, Oakland County reached full employment because of Patterson’s successful job growth and retention strategies in the knowledge-based economy. His Emerging Sectors, Medical Main Street and Tech 248 initiatives have attracted more than $5.2 billion in private investment, creating or retaining 91,000-plus jobs.

Patterson was proud that the county achieved a coveted AAA bond rating in 1998, which continues to this day. That’s tied directly to the county’s three-year balanced budget with a five-year outlook — currently balanced through 2024 — and innovation in transitioning employees from a defined benefit to a defined contribution retirement plan, saving taxpayers in excess of $650 million.

Oakland County has been ranked among the most digitally advanced counties in America by the Center for Digital Government for the past 13 years. Patterson embraced technology to improve customer service, work more efficiently and collaborate with other governments in the cloud.

The county’s global reach also exploded, with more than 1,100 firms from 39 foreign countries operating inside its borders.

Close to Patterson’s heart was the Brooksie Way Half-Marathon he established in memory of his son, Brooks “Brooksie” Stuart Patterson, who died in a tragic snowmobile accident in 2007. He also started The Rainbow Connection, a Rochester-based organization dedicated to granting the wishes of seriously ill children.

Patterson spearheaded other cultural and health initiatives including the Fire & Ice Festival, Arts, Beats & Eats and the Count Your Steps program that encourages kids to walk more.

“Brooks has an incredible list of accomplishments,” Poisson said. “But for those of us who knew him well, he’ll be remembered for his unshakeable loyalty, warmth and kindness and generous heart.” 

‘A Courageous Fighter’

That’s how his family most certainly knows him.

“Our dad was a courageous fighter all his life and he fought right up until the end,” said Mary Warner, Patterson’s daughter. “Our family is grieving over the unimaginable loss of our father, grandfather, hero and friend.

“Many will remember him for his impact on Michigan and generosity toward Oakland County. We’ll remember him for his love and generosity toward his family and friends.”

Patterson was born in Detroit on Jan. 4, 1939, to Margie and Hubert Patterson. He grew up in the Rosedale Park neighborhood on Detroit’s west side, attending St. Scholastica School and University of Detroit High School.

After earning his undergraduate degree in English from the University of Detroit, he taught at Catholic Central High School in the city. He went on to serve in the U.S. Army from 1962 to 1964, and then earned a law degree from the University of Detroit.

Patterson briefly entered private practice, but soon joined the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office as an assistant prosecutor and ascended to prosecuting major crimes. Tom Plunkett, Oakland County prosecutor at the time, fired Patterson in 1971 for disagreeing with Plunkett’s position favoring plea bargains. Patterson ran for prosecutor in 1972, defeating Plunkett and serving with distinction as Oakland County prosecutor until Dec. 31, 1988.

Patterson also was in private practice prior to his election as prosecutor and during the years between stepping down as Oakland County prosecutor and his election as Oakland County executive.

In total, he spent 50 years of his life in public service to Oakland County, where Sheriff Michael Bouchard said his passing is “the end of an era.”

“Brooks Patterson was a steadfast leader, who safeguarded Oakland County’s fiscal stability in good times and in bad,” Bouchard said. “With Brooks, we did not have to wonder what was on his mind — his quick wit and sometimes sharp tongue never left any doubt where he stood. Whether you agreed with him on an issue or not, you always knew his unwavering concern had the best interests of Oakland County — first and always.”

Patterson is survived by his son Dr. Dayne (Heather) Rogers of Davisburg, daughters Mary (Gary) Warner of Clarkston and Shawn Sutherland of Waterford, daughter-in-law Jessie (Charlie) Damavoletes of Waterford, former wife Kathy (Bruce) Patterson of Clarkston, 10 grandchildren and several nieces and nephews.

In addition to son Brooks, Patterson was preceded in death by his twin brother Stephen, sister Harriett Hayden and nephew Timothy Hayden, all three of whom died of cancer.

Visitation on Wednesday, Aug. 14, from 3 to 8 p.m. and Thursday, Aug. 15, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. is open to the public. It will be held at Woodside Bible Church-Troy campus, 6600 Rochester Road.

The funeral begins at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 15, also at Woodside-Troy and is open to the public. Burial with full military honors will be private.

Coates Funeral Home in Clarkston is handling funeral arrangements.