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"GHO" 2006 Obituary


GHOSH o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2006-03-27 published
Pat PATTERSON, Broadcaster And Writer (1921-2005)
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation pioneer hosted Trans-Canada Matinee, launched Polka Dot Door and wrote umpteen documentaries, plays and musicals but always turned down accolades
By Sabitri GHOSH, Special to The Globe and Mail, Page S9
Kingston -- Even in the form of a disembodied voice, Pat PATTERSON turned heads. Her firm yet supple contralto, one Canadian Broadcasting Corporation listener wrote, was "the most beautiful speaking voice" she had ever heard. Furthermore, said the fan letter, Ms. PATTERSON's show Trans-Canada Matinee "has helped me raise my children, kept me informed on world affairs, and acquainted me with the little but interesting people in the world -- and always with a chuckle." Added the Sturgeon Falls, Ontario, writer: "Your audience has always felt that Matinee was you, Pat."
For Ms. PATTERSON, there was no higher compliment. As striking in person as her radio voice insinuated, the prolific broadcaster, author and composer wanted her work to speak for her; she was merely the transmitter. "She was very retiring and very unassuming," said her partner, Sheila GILBERT. " Her attitude was, 'I don't want anything. No fuss, no muss.' "
In later years, she recoiled from public attention, even failing to show up at the 1986 Gemini Awards to pick up the John Drainie Award for lifetime achievement in broadcasting. Orphaned amid the festivities, the plaque was eventually retrieved from a garbage bin (so the story goes) and delivered in private.
The lifetime it celebrated was rarely discussed by Ms. PATTERSON. All she would reveal of her early years was her birthplace, Victoria, and the fact she earned a licentiate in voice and violin. A precocious only child, she co-wrote her high school's anthem with next-door neighbour Lucy BERTON, a sister of writer-historian Pierre BERTON. At 21, she joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and drove ambulances in Britain for the Red Cross. Returning to Canada in 1944, she moved to Toronto, where she hoped to have a career in advertising.
An agency man referred her to a friend, who referred her to another friend who worked at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. There, she landed jobs in the record library and continuity department.
"It was strictly the understudy in the wings department," Ms. PATTERSON told Peter GZOWSKI on a Morningside interview in 1986. "An announcer by the name of Frank Herbert was doing an afternoon concert hour, and I planned that program -- I planned the music and so on. One day, he was ill, and no one could be found to take his place. And the boss said, would I like to try it? So I did. And that was it: I was hooked."
In 1948, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation gave Ms. PATTERSON her own nationwide show, Pat's Music Room, half an hour of her diverse musical selections. She also lent her voice, programming skills and writing talents to a host of other network enterprises, prompting one columnist to dub her a "Jill of all trades."
When the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation joined the television revolution in 1952, the poised and telegenic Ms. PATTERSON led the charge. She often served as a pitchwoman for live-to-air commercials; writer June CALLWOOD remembered seeing her in one for electric stoves, "the kind that she just stands there and says she just loves her stove."
As Ms. PATTERSON's reputation grew, Ms. CALLWOOD's husband, Trent FRAYNE, was sent to interview her for Chatelaine. "You two would be great Friends," he told his wife. When the women met through a mutual friend, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Dorothy (Dodi) ROBB, they did indeed get along famously.
"We had the same sense of humour and the same ethics about behaviour she was a little more Victorian than I was, but we were both very proper women," Ms. CALLWOOD said.
When the still-single Ms. PATTERSON became pregnant and decided to raise her child herself, she turned to Ms. Callwood for support. "That was very unusual, to keep a baby in those days," Ms. Callwood said. "What people did was hide out and give the baby up for adoption, but she was not going to do that. At the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which was more broad-minded than most places, it was still a bit of a shocker."
Through resourceful time management and the help of close Friends, Ms. PATTERSON managed to rear her son, David, while working on three radio and two television shows at the same time. It was a remarkable feat that she divulged to no one but the most trusted of intimates.
She found sanctuary, as well as creative satisfaction, in her profession. "You sit in that booth and you are quite private," said fellow Canadian Broadcasting Corporation employee Liz FAWKES, who befriended the older woman and later babysat her son.
In the pinnacle of her Canadian Broadcasting Corporation career, Ms. PATTERSON was chosen to host Trans-Canada Matinee in 1961. Aimed at a daytime audience of women -- even as that audience's perceptions of itself and its role were shifting -- the public-affairs program offered interviews with the likes of W.H. Auden, George Balanchine, and Laurence Olivier.
"If and when women achieve that mythical status they keep fussing about, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Matinee should deserve some of the credit," wrote Toronto Telegram columnist DuBarry CAMPEAU in 1968. "It is lively and literate and any woman or man listening to it will be both entertained and informed."
Though upset by the abrupt cancellation of Matinee in 1971, Ms. PATTERSON smoothly segued into children's entertainment, arguably the love of her professional life. In the 1950s and '60s, she had collaborated with Ms. ROBB on a children's musical fantasy, an after-school television program, and three children's musicals. Now, the partners set to work on a new children's program, The Polka Dot Door. Besides composing the buoyant theme song -- still hummed on schoolyards and playgrounds across Canada -- Ms. PATTERSON also co-wrote the first 60 shows. "She had a sense of play, she had a sense of fun," said Ms. CALLWOOD, citing these as the cues for Ms. PATTERSON's approach to writing for children.
In a 1973 interview, Ms. PATTERSON also spoke of her strong sense of responsibility. "I think we're so conditioned, so tuned into the fact we're writing for children, we have to take care." She wanted her plays and programs to act as "good influences," she said, "if not in a moral sense, at least in a getting-along sense."
Ms. PATTERSON's words and music were behind many of the most durable children's shows of the 1970s and '80s, including numerous Sharon, Lois and Bram specials and Fred Penner's Place. She also developed and hosted short-run Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio series, and wrote plays and documentaries for radio and television. Her proudest achievement -- a docudrama on the life of landscape painter and war artist David Milne, A Path of His Own, which she also narrated -- won seven Canadian Film and Television Awards in 1980.
A scrupulous craftswoman, she was a critic of her own work, too. In a 1990 letter, she asked the editors of The Encyclopedia of Music in Canada to drop all references to her musical Henry Green and the Mighty Machine, "as it had a very brief life, while the three musicals previously mentioned have continued to get productions after more than 20 years."
But real life allowed no such revisions. In the late 1980s, Ms. PATTERSON had a permanent falling-out with Ms. ROBB, which affected her personally as well as professionally. Even more devastating was her son's death in 1994 from cancer. "That was a disaster," said Ms. FAWKES. " You don't want your children to go before you."
Pat PATTERSON was born in Victoria on December 4, 1921, and died in Toronto on December 19, 2005, of cancer. She was 84. She leaves her partner, Sheila GILBERT.

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