Memorial bike ride, garden for killed Hudson’s Bay teacher

Gordon Patterson’s warmth lives on

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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If every teacher loved his or her students as much as Gordon Patterson did — “in a positive sort of way,” as he liked to clarify, so there’d be no misunderstanding — the whole world would be a better place.

That’s the message Caleb Patterson, 24, wants everyone to take away from the life his father led.

“His personality was very outgoing. He really encouraged a lot of other teachers to get out of the classroom and touch students’ lives,” said Caleb, who’s studying engineering at the University of Portland. “He took extra responsibility.”

Gordon Patterson, a popular math and design technology teacher at Hudson’s Bay High School, was killed on his bicycle Sept. 15, 2009, at age 50, by Antonio Cellestine, who was texting while driving. Patterson was an enthusiastic bicycle commuter. The accident took place on St. Johns Boulevard in the Minnehaha neighborhood. Cellestine was sentenced to five years in prison.

A memorial bike ride on Saturday morning commemorated Patterson’s life and the extraordinary caring he displayed for his students. About 50 cyclists participated, despite the rain.

After that, Patterson’s friend Steve Lorenz, who teaches horticulture at Bay, broke ground on a memorial garden for Patterson in the school courtyard.

Caleb Patterson and his grandparents, Lyle and Elaine Patterson of Longview, helped Lorenz plant the first two trees in the ground.

Lorenz, a Patterson family friend for 20-plus years, said dogwoods were chosen to anchor the fledgling garden because, starting next spring, they will display white leaves — recalling the distinctive white lab coat that Patterson sported as he “ran around the hallways” making sure he knew every student’s name, whether or not they were in one of his classes.

There will also be boxwoods, lavender, tulips, azaleas, evergreen shrubs and more — all perched at the higher end of the courtyard, near what Lorenz called the “Patterson wing” of the school building. Lorenz said the class of 2011 donated $800 to the cause.

“Mr. Patterson was special,” Lorenz said. “He had his hands in all kinds of stuff. He was bigger than life.”

Caleb Patterson said he’s sure his father’s cheerful energy and genuine caring made a difference and may even have saved lives.

“Students knew there was a guy who cared about them and knew their names,” he said. “I want to encourage all other teachers to follow his example.”

He said he also wanted to encourage bicyclists and drivers to think about safety. Wear helmets while cycling and pay attention to the road, not your personal gizmo, while driving, he said.

“DNT TXT & DRVE IT KILLZ,” says a bumper sticker for sale at the event. Also for sale, to benefit the garden, were white T-shirts featuring a caricature of a smiling Patterson as a Jedi Knight from the Star Wars movies he loved.

He was “a character,” agreed the Rev. Matt Perez of the First Evangelical Church in Vancouver, where Patterson worshipped. “And he found ways to love people. He was a man of honor and integrity. He worked hard and he didn’t believe in laziness.

“Here’s an example of a man who loved,” Perez said.

Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525; http://twitter.com/col_nonprofits; scott.hewitt@columbian.com.