William Weston Bill Patton
William Weston Patton, Oregon Shakespeare Festival's first general manager and executive director, died at home in Ashland, Ore., on January 13, 2011, following a long journey with prostate cancer. Patton led the Oregon Shakespeare Festival from 1953 to his retirement in 1995. He was 83.
Born September 22, 1927, in Medford, Ore., Bill Patton was the youngest of Edith Warner and Hamilton Patton's four children. His theatrical and entrepreneurial flair became apparent early. Billy Patton was known for the dramatic marionette and puppet shows he designed and performed in his basement (admittance 2 cents). Not too many years later, young Bill was running a fireworks stand, investing the proceeds in new puppets and moving performances to the window of Mann's Department Store. Patton attended Medford High School, where he designed lighting for school plays and dances. He graduated in 1945. He met Angus L. Bowmer, founder of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), when he did lights for Bowmer's wartime Medford Little Theatre production, "Deadlier Than The Male". Patton attended Stanford University, but his studies were interrupted by two years proud service with the United States Army Air Forces. He returned to Stanford on the GI Bill, earning a degree in drama with a minor in journalism.
Patton started spending summers working at the Festival in Ashland in 1948, initially as a lighting technician and soon as actor, wardrobe assistant and lighting director. Following his graduation and the close of the 1951 OSF season, Patton was hired at Columbia Broadcasting System in Hollywood as a production assistant and stage hand. He worked on leading radio and television shows including I Love Lucy, Jack Benny, and Burns and Allen. During the summers Patton continued his work at OSF.
Bowmer appointed Patton general manager in 1953, making him the Festival's first full-time employee. A steadfast steward of the Festival, Patton had a deep appreciation for the collaborative nature of theatre and led OSF in partnership with three artistic directors: Angus Bowmer, Jerry Turner and Henry Woronicz. In 1981, Patton's title changed to executive director and he commenced another important partnership by hiring Paul Nicholson as general manager. Patton's proudest achievements include the construction of the Festival's performing spaces, as conceived by his longtime friend and colleague OSF's senior scenic and theatre designer, Richard L. Hay: The Elizabethan Theatre (1959), the Angus Bowmer Theatre (1970), the Black Swan (1977), and the Allen Pavilion of the Elizabethan Stage (1992). In 1993 he received the Oregon Governor's Award for the Arts. His life and work have also been honored by the Shakespeare Theatre Association, Institute of Outdoor Drama, American Shakespeare Center, Arts Management Magazine, Ashland Chamber of Commerce, Lewis & Clark College, and Southern Oregon University.
A Medford native, Patton treasured his friendships and associations within the Rogue Valley. He understood the theatre would never flourish without community goodwill and the dedicated service of countless volunteers. He devoted himself to building understanding between the community and the Festival. He was a long-time member of Rotary, past president of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, board member of the Southern Oregon Humane Society and On Track and an elder of First Presbyterian Church of Ashland.
Patton's love of theatre and appreciation for what it takes to produce it extended beyond the Festival. He was an avid audience member and supporter of other theatre companies near and far.
In addition to theatre, Patton's passions included his family, travel and gardening.
He found his life's partner, Shirley Douglass, in the summer of 1958, when Shirley came to OSF to join the acting company. They were married December 27 in Portland, Ore. In 1961, they built their Ashland dream home, Treetops, on the hill above the Festival. That same year daughter Kristin was born, followed by Kent, in 1963, and Will, in 1968. Treetops became home to many, including Shirley's mother, Belle Douglass, and four foreign exchange students that became like daughters (Pia Kummer, Gisela Spann, Laurence Claeyssens and Naoko Itabashi). Treetops also provided shorter-term hospitality to a multitude of friends and family. Every year at Christmas time, Bill would climb the tallest pine tree near the house and string holiday lights. The Patton Tree became an annual beacon of the season for generations of Rogue Valley Residents.
Patton delighted in the new experiences, adventures and shared memories of travel. There were cruises to Hawaii, the Caribbean, Alaska, Panama Canal and the Mediterranean as well as a number of trips to Europe. Bill and Shirley developed a special affinity for Kauai, returning often to the Garden Island.
Patton loved to garden and grow things, bringing in fresh-cut flowers to Shirley, tending to tropical orchids, and sharing the bounty of his garden with friends and co-workers. Generations of children fondly recall helping to harvest and feast upon Patton berries.
Patton felt most fortunate to have a life in theatre while being deeply rooted in community. He was thankful not to have to live the nomadic life more typical of theatre people, but to raise his family in one home where he could nurture deep friendships, participate in community life and create a quiet garden. He was a kind and gentle man, known for his perseverance and fondness for bad puns.
Patton is pre-deceased by his parents; sisters, Doris Harris and Helen Casey; and brother, Kenneth. He is survived by his wife, Shirley Douglass Patton; stepbrother, Charles R. Braley (Goodie); and stepsister, Nancy Fox; half sisters, Jean Patton Ashcraft and Julie Patton Barker; children, Kristin Patton (John Coleman), of La Grange, Ill.; Kent (Amy) Patton, of Ashland, Ore.; Will (Shalem) Patton, of Portland, Ore.; grandchildren, Jed, Katie, Lilli, Jo, Zack, Kate and Cade; and a large and loving extended family including sisters-in-law, nephews and nieces, foreign exchange students and theatre family.
A celebration of Bill Patton's life is planned for Friday, February 4, 2011. A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church of Ashland, 1615 Clark Avenue. The service will be followed by a reception from 4:30 6:30 pm in the lobby of the Angus Bowmer Theatre, 15 S. Pioneer.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Bill and Shirley Patton Education Fund of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, 15 S. Pioneer Street, Ashland, OR 97520 or in support of Ashland Community Hospital Hospice through contributions to the ACH Foundation, P.O. Box 98, Ashland, OR 97520. You are also encouraged to spontaneously share a fresh cut flower or succulent berry with someone you love.