No mystery why Patterson loved public service

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Former Pennsylvania Inspector General Don Patterson stands next to his wife, Elaine, in the Absecon home they have owned since 1987.

ABSECON – For Don Patterson, it wasn’t the pay that made his eight-year stint as Pennsylvania’s inspector general so rewarding.

Instead it was the personal satisfaction of serving the commonwealth’s 12 million residents, Patterson said.

"There’s more money working in the private sector," Patterson said from his Absecon home recently. "But when you can help protect the taxpayer and help people…then that’s what makes a big difference."

Patterson, a Philadelphia native, served under his life-long friend and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell from 2003-2011.

Last April, new Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett issued a proclamation honoring Patterson, his hard work and his success during the Rendell administration.

"As governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and on behalf of all Pennsylvanians, I would like to recognize your contribution to our commonwealth and thank you for your years of dedication and commitment," Corbett said in the proclamation.

"Throughout your service as inspector general from 2003 to 2011, you provided our commonwealth with the appropriate and necessary guidance to detect and combat fraud, waste and abuse within the commonwealth’s programs, operations and contract," Corbett said. "Your diligence and competency ensured that Pennsylvanian’s hard earned tax dollars were being put to good use by government agencies. Your expertise was invaluable to the Office of Inspector General’s mission and the daily operation of state government and I am among the grateful citizens appreciative of your service."

Patterson said he was honored by the governor’s comments and thoughts.

As inspector general, Patterson oversaw a statewide staff of 400 people.

"We had an office in every county," he said.

Patterson’s task was to look for fraud and analyze operating procedures.
"People don’t like change," he said. "Sometimes they wouldn’t like what we were doing but when they say how well it worked, they appreciated the changes."

During his eight years, Patterson and his department saved the state more than $1 billion in recovered cost.

"J. Edgar Hoover said when he ran the FBI he saved the FBI more money than it cost to operate," Patterson said. "Well, we saved the state more money that it cost to operate."

Patterson was a lieutenant detective in the Philadelphia police department when he met Rendell, who served as a young assistant district attorney. The men and their families became friends over the years.

"We would go out to eat dinner together," he said.

Even after Patterson retired from the police department and began a second career in casino management, his friendship with Rendell remained strong.

When the former Philadelphia mayor decided to run for Pennsylvania governor in 2002, he called on Patterson to make appearances for him.

"He needed someone to make appearances for him when he had to be in two places and the same time," Patterson said.

Even though he was unfamiliar with Pennsylvania politics, Patterson wanted to help out an old friend and took the position with the Rendell campaign.

The trouble was, however, that Rendell was running against Thomas Casey Jr. and Patterson felt Rendell couldn’t win.

But Patterson confided in Marjorie Rendell, who is a federal judge, and told her that the campaign for governor would thrust Rendell into a prominent light and make him well known regionally and nationally.

So Patterson came on board with the Rendell campaign.

"We had a tremendous campaign staff," he remembers. "They would find out what interested the voters I would speak to and I would do the research on the issues. I did my homework."

When he would speak, Patterson would "have more information than they had," he said.

Patterson, an avid reader, has always maintained an insatiable thirst for knowledge.

"Some people go through life and they never realize how little they know," he said. "When you figure that out it increases your hunger for knowledge."

Patterson’s hunger for knowledge combined with his people skills soon created another opportunity after Rendell won the election in an upset.

"Rendell called on a Friday and said, ‘I have a job for you and it’s inspector general,’" Patterson said. "I pulled out a Pennsylvania government manual I had and read up on the job of inspector general."

Three days later, Rendell had an answer and Patterson was on his way to helping the people of the commonwealth.

Currently, Patterson and his wife, Elaine, live in the Absecon home they have shared since 1987.

"I love it here," he said. "We have a great church in St. Elizabeth Anne Seton and I’m a member of the Knights of Columbus."

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