Services held for educators who died in house fire

Donald, Jennye Patterson worked for Baltimore public schools

October 05, 2011|By Steve Kilar, The Baltimore Sun

The lives of two retired Baltimore educators were remembered by family, friends and former students Wednesday evening on the campus of the college they both attended a half-century ago.

The funeral for Donald Ernest Lee Patterson Sr., 77, and Jennye Agnes Thomas-Patterson, 80, was held in Morgan State University's Gilliam Concert Hall.

"At the funeral home today, there were numerous former students," said Sharon Green, who attended Greenspring Junior High School in the 1970s when the Pattersons were working at the school. "It was just like a class reunion there, minus them."

The couple died last week when a fire consumed their brick split-level home on Mohawk Avenue, just north of Gwynns Falls Park. The blaze was reported just after 4:30 a.m. Sept. 28. Neighbors said they heard smoke alarms going off during the fire.

The cause is being investigated, a Fire Department spokesman said Wednesday. One of the Pattersons died inside the home, the other at Sinai Hospital.

The couple first met as undergraduates in the 1950s, at what was then Morgan State College, but did not marry until about 30 years later.

They had worked as administrators at Greenspring Junior High. After Donald Patterson's first wife died of cancer, he and Jennye married in Baltimore in 1987. She moved into his home in the northwest part of the city.

Green said she was not surprised that they ended up together. Students could tell Donald and Jennye had a special bond, she said.

"We kind of knew there was something there between them." In the mid-1990s, Green reconnected with Jennye through their sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. "She used to say to me, 'Shhh. Don't tell the rest of them I used to be your principal,' because she didn't want people to be able to figure out her age."

At Wednesday's service, their open coffins were side by side at the front of the concert hall. An American flag, representing Donald's time in the Army, was folded into a triangle at the head of his black coffin. A bouquet of orange lilies lay near the head of Jennye's white casket.

Donald, a graduate of Dunbar High School, ran track but attended Morgan on a football scholarship. He graduated in 1956 with a bachelor's degree in physical education. The son of a Sparrows Point steelworker, he also earned a master's degree in education from what was then Loyola College.

He returned to Dunbar as a teacher and coach. He also taught at Booker T. Washington Junior High School and Hampstead Hill Junior High School. He then became assistant principal at Garrison Junior High School and, later, principal at Greenspring. He rose to be an assistant superintendent in the city school system.

Jennye was born and brought up in Philadelphia. She was awarded a scholarship to Morgan because of her skill in ballet. While she was in attendance she was elected Miss Morgan. She also earned a master's degree from the university.

She entered the Baltimore public schools as a foreign language teacher. She became a department chair and also served as a guidance counselor. Her final roles with the school system were as vice principal and then principal of Greenspring.

Jennye remained active in the arts until her death, said friend and colleague Lydia James, who briefly worked as an art teacher at Greenspring with the Pattersons.

"I wasn't there long, but I was there long enough to see that they were hard workers and dedicated," said James, who was also in a sorority with Jennye and an arts organization.

The services were attended by hundreds of people, mostly members of civic organizations the Pattersons were active in. Each organization performed a rite or tribute to the Pattersons during the event.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake offered her condolences to the Pattersons' family members in the green room before the service.

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