'A gift' to Lubbock, Texas, U.S.A.: T.J. Patterson, city leader and first Black councilman, dies

T.J. Patterson is being remembered for his dedication to the community he often proudly referred to as Lubbock, Texas, U.S.A.

Patterson, who served in many key roles including as Lubbock’s first African-American city councilman, a weekly newspaper publisher and a life-long advocate for equal rights, died Wednesday. He was 85.

Friends and loved ones recalled that Patterson spent his life doing something, largely focused on service to the city and Black community.

Alan Henry, who served as Lubbock's mayor at the start of Patterson's tenure on the council in 1984, praised Patterson as "a gift to the city."

"Everyone knows T.J. was a very optimistic person, very encouraging and articulate, but he was also someone who was very thoughtful and aware of the seriousness of issues facing the community," Henry said.

Although Patterson was born in Waxahachie and grew up in Wichita Falls, most of his life was dedicated to Lubbock and West Texas. He moved to Lubbock not long after graduating with a degree in physical education from Bishop College in Marshall and spent his early years working in education, including at Texas Tech, according to Avalanche-Journal archives. Lubbock is where he met his wife, Bobbie Patterson, where they raised three children and build a life largely dedicated to serving their community.

In 1977, he and Eddie Richardson co-founded the Southwest Digest, a weekly publication focused on Lubbock’s Black community, according to A-J archives.

More:'A gift' to Lubbock: T.J. Patterson biography released through Texas Tech press

He became the first African-American person elected to the Lubbock City Council in 1984 and served in that position for 20 years. He was a leader and a voice in Lubbock’s African-American community. His natural leadership got recognized by many state and national organizations. One of his daughters, Shelia Patterson Harris, now represents Lubbock’s District 2 on the city council.

Former Lubbock City Councilman T.J. Patterson visits with inmates at the Lubbock County Detention Center in 2010 as part of his annual tradition of sharing a positive message on Christmas Day.
Former Lubbock City Councilman T.J. Patterson visits with inmates at the Lubbock County Detention Center in 2010 as part of his annual tradition of sharing a positive message on Christmas Day.

Patterson and Maggie Trejo together became Lubbock's first minority city councilmembers in 1984 after a court ruling the year prior carved Lubbock into six single-member City Council districts. For nine years until Trejo's departure from the council in 1993, the two worked together on a number of issues important to Lubbock's minority communities, many of which we still hear about and address often today — road infrastructure, community policing and the Canyon Lakes system to name just a few.

"He just gave completely to working for the community," Trejo told the A-J on Wednesday. "He knew you don't have to be the representative of yourself, as long as you do what the people need."

Trejo first met Patterson when she attended Texas Tech in the 1970s after battling illness for much of her early life. Patterson was serving as the assistant to the dean of the College of Business Administration at the time.

"He was one of the administrators that said, 'Oh yes, you can do it,'" Trejo said. "I didn't really know him at that time, but he always encouraged me. He said, 'If you went to school, you could try hard and do well.' And so I did."

Patterson was a vocal advocate for youth and education issues, leading marches in protest of drugs and violence. He was a Vietnam veteran and a namesake, along with his wife Bobbie, of the Patterson Library in East Lubbock.

"Lubbock lost a hero today," Mayor Tray Payne said in a statement Wednesday. "T.J. was a pioneer and a true public servant in the West Texas community. We are forever grateful for everything he did for Lubbock. Our thoughts and prayers go to the Patterson family during this difficult time."

"T.J. Patterson embodied public service and dedication to the community," City Manager Jarrett Atkinson said in the statement. "He is someone everyone at the city to this day admires and respects.

"T.J. was on the City Council when I was an intern at the city years ago. Watching him represent his constituents and work for the community was a tremendous lesson. He loved the people of Lubbock and he cared for this community. My thoughts and prayers are with the Patterson family.”

A book authored by Phil Price titled “Equal Opportunity Hero: T.J. Patterson’s Service to West Texas” and published by Texas Tech University Press was released in 2017.

Former Mayor Alan Henry recalled Patterson was working at Tech when he first met him, and later got to know him much better thanks, in part, to the court decision that helped integrate the City Council by creating single-member districts. That created a district in predominantly Black East Lubbock, and Patterson was an increasingly well-known and respected figure in the entire community by that point, Henry recalled.

"It was an honor to be part of the first expanded city council," Henry said. "T.J. Patterson — as well as Maggie Trejo — were the keys to the successful transformation from the old system to the expanded system, because of his ability to get along with people, to work with people. Our city government was improved considerably. It was a pleasure to work with him."

Henry described Patterson as one of the most optimistic people he ever knew.

"But he was also realistic in that he knew the seriousness of issues that faced the city," he said.

Some of the issues Henry remembered working with Patterson on included improving housing and economic development on the east side as well as helping secure additional water sources for the entire city through what would later be known as Lake Alan Henry.

"He was a very rare individual in that he represented his district very well while keeping in mind that he represented he city as a whole," Henry said.

Even as Patterson's health declined in recent years — and his wife Bobbie passed away in 2012 — he remained active in the community, speaking at events and making his annual Christmastime visit to inmates at Lubbock's jail.

"T.J. and Bobbie were fixtures in the city," he said.

Henry said the men maintained their friendship over the years, and recalled visiting with a still-jovial Patterson a few weeks ago.

"I remember he told me that he was always proud of Lubbock, Texas, U.S.A.," he said.

Patterson's funeral arrangements are pending, according to family and friends.

This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: T.J. Patterson, Lubbock leader and first Black councilman, dies