Interview with Virginia Patterson August 9, 2013 7:05-8:05 P.M.
By Austin Beaven
Q: Go for it.
A: O.K., I came to Boulder as a freshman at the University along with my twin sister (Betty). She was interested in majoring in psychology and I was interested in majoring in journalism and we both thought this would be a wonderful place to come. That was in 1942 when WWII was going…you know, we were into it but our country was beginning to turn the tide.
Q: What inspired you to come to Boulder County and CU?
A: We were both enrolled at William and Mary and our father thought that if we were on the east coast that the Germans would bomb his twin daughters and if we were on the west coast the Japanese would bomb his twin daughters. So our mother had attended summer school at CU when she was a student at Sophie Newcomb College in New Orleans. While she was here she made friends with a young Boulder woman whose name was Mary Ethel Ball (the Dean of Women) and while Betty and I were here she was just darling. About once a month we would go to her house for a steak dinner.
Q: Oh my gosh, that sounds so good!
A: She was neat. She liked dogs; we liked dogs. She loved the University. She was not a stuffy person, she was a professor of physical education and then became the Dean. I was very caught up in my journalistic studies and had wonderful relationships with my three professors Ralph Crozman, Zell Mabee, and Gail Waldrop. The teaching that they inspired me with was in particular the ethics of journalism and the ethics of reporting the facts and verifying the facts before you dared to spread them.
Q: Of course, you need to know what you’re saying before you tell it, right?
A: While I was a student, I was chosen to be editor of the Silver and Gold when I was a sophomore. The Silver and Gold was then our student newspaper. It was what became the Colorado Daily. The Daily ultimately grew out of the Silver and Gold. I was very active in student affairs. I was the president of the women students, a member of associated students University of Colorado. I had the chairs of academics and fair elections. Then I was elected to mortar board which was the senior society based on scholarship, and leadership, and service. While I was engaged with my mortar board stuff and my journalism stuff, I entered a contest with Mademoiselle Magazine, and I won it. I became the guest editor of their college addition in that year, in 1946, which was my graduation year. It was really a very interesting experience professionally and humanly. I think I grew tremendously in that time; but it made me look at myself and be honest about how much I missed waking in the morning and looking up at the flatirons and just feeling full…inspired. So, because of my relationship with the Silver and Gold I knew Gov Paddock very well, who was the editor and publisher of the Camera. So I wrote him a letter and said I wanted to come back to Boulder and keep his eyes open if heard of any work that I might do. And he sent me a wire that said, “come home, job waiting”. I was very lucky, I had such good friends and people who encourage me. And so, I thought with a star like the college editor of Mademoiselle that I would be, you know, editor of the editorial page, or copy editor. My job was selling display advertising. I was the first woman who sold display advertising.
Q: Imagine that.
A: I should mention this because in Boulder I have been the first woman to do quite a few things. I never felt there was a glass ceiling. I just always felt there was work to be done and I was competent and I got to do it.
Q: Get out there and do it, right? If you have the will, you have the way.
A: The physical ability and mental ability to cope. One thing I say to women who are just beginning to come into their own right now, and they ask for advice. I only give them one piece of advice and that is, don’t talk a lot until you know what the hell you are talking about.
Q: There you go, just from you professor, right? Know the facts then speak what you know.
A: Whatever. After I worked at the Camera, the University hired me and I worked for the bureau of State and Community Service and I edited the Colorado School Board Journal and the Colorado Municipalities magazine. And when I say I edited, I wrote it, I sold the advertising, I read the proof, I put ‘em out. They were monthly magazines or newsletters (depending on what the professor who really was in charge called it). While I was doing that, I met a handsome young man who came to be the first Episcopalian chaplin at the University. He came to Boulder from Texas where he had been the chaplin at the University of Texas shortly after returning from his service in WWII. He was chaplin in the pacific fleet and once he was commissioned and onboard ship, he didn’t touch land again until the war was over. He was at the Bikini (Island) bomb test. He was on big ships that were in battle, generally carriers. He never liked to talk about his war experience. When I was at WICHE I needed to go to Hawaii because that was one of the states we were serving. He went with me. It was the first time he had been in that part of the world since the war and it was an emotional experience for him. But anyway, in addition to being a Chaplin, he was an ex-football-player…big…with a beautiful voice and he was musically trained, he had sung at the Metropolitan. When he came (to CU), the student center was where the city parking lot is now next to what used to be Jones Drug store on the hill on the corner of College and Broadway. It was an old boarding house and his office and bedroom were upstairs and the student center was down stairs. After we were married, I had lived at the Huntington Arms, which was at 12th and Euclid, and so we had an apartment there. We knew we were having a baby and we moved to an upstairs apartment, no washing machine, no nothing. While he was involved with all this I tried to help him and so we had large, large student groups and I learned to cook for a crowd because every Sunday night we’d have a Sunday night supper. In those days the students would pay 50 cents, but we’d have a really good dinner. Now when do this at the church, the students don’t pay anything and I think we don’t have nearly as nice a dinner.
Q: If you get 50 cents from a lot of people, that will get you some good food.
A: The University in those earlier days did not have dining facilities as they do now and they were closed on Sunday. So a lot of things have changed. While we were married and had our children I was able to stay at home. I did ghost writing and editing at night. I’d go to bed when the kids went to bed and then get up at 1:30 and do my journalism stuff. And then when our youngest son was at Casey (Middle School) and playing basketball and didn’t get home until 6:00 (p.m.), that is when I started to work at WICHE and in addition to student exchange director, I was their editor and ghost writer. Really had a great learning experience. I had so much respect for the people in the areas where I worked when I saw how hard they tried to do their best for their state, for their university, for their kids. I met really interesting people and after my husband retired from the active ministry, I left my job at WICHE and we bought the Printed Page. No sooner had we gotten in the building, even though we had a lease, they were going to remodel and the access would have been blocked, so we had to move. We ultimately ended up in the 1200 block on Pearl Street, and along about then my husband died and I carried on and each one of our boys at some time or another worked in our family business either by desperation or by choice. And all three went to CU. Two live in Boulder now, have families, one lives in South Carolina. (Regarding) my downtown experience, did you see the little story that was in the CU Alum magazine about me that says, a “Boulder Legend”?
Q: I toured CU two weeks ago on the CU Sampler. We got a magazine but I’m not positive if it is that magazine.
A: I’ll give you one. You can read it. In sort of a human way it talks about the downtown experience. When I got involved, it was because I really loved Boulder and downtown Boulder. Downtown was our neighborhood. We lived on Mapleton Hill right up at the top, and downtown had just gone dead with so many stores either closing or moving to Crossroads which was the predecessor to 29th street. The city wasn’t really helping, the chamber wasn’t helping, so we just decided to help ourselves. So we did! It started the same way that Plan Boulder started. A couple of people talking together and then bringing in a third and then bringing in more. Just talking together until we had enough confidence in what we were doing to work harder and try harder. I was for a long time either the president or the marketing director and for all of downtown for marketing for a year, my budget would be $20,000. Those fun loving colleagues of mine would hide the money so I couldn’t get it. They would plan an event and the money would be going towards this $20,000 and then they’d say, “We haven’t paid all the bills we’re still checking on that.” It would be the time for Santa Claus and I would be there with my hand out saying would you give me money so I can hire a Santa Claus…I have $30 but I need $20 more. Talking about branding and advertising whether you do it from the inside out or the outside in, I think you have to be enthusiastic about what it is you are peddling. Maybe nobody else will be interested to begin with, but fool them.
Q: Did you have any role models now or when you were younger that inspired you in any way?
A: My mother and father, my three journalism professors, Mary Ethel Ball, then my husband (there were 11 years difference in our ages and he was 6’-4” and I am 5’-3”). He was such a wonderful, wonderful human being, I really loved him and I still love him. I feel so blessed that we had the sons that we did and that I could be an at-home Mom while they were little. It was really important to me, maybe not to others, but for me that was important. And so, I value my journalism training because I could augment the family income a little bit.
Q: What inspired you to be such a strong community leader? I’ve seen the awards that you have gotten for being a community leader here in Boulder. What inspired you to do that?
A: Something that was needed. I don’t talk a lot. Gathering facts and impressions is so ingrained in me that I seem to pick out from things that were happening a pattern or a sense of need and priority. When I got to that point, I’d say so and I wouldn’t be embarrassed to say it and I wouldn’t feel that I was intruding into men’s business. I like men. I like women, too. I’d rather work with men than women. I think one reason, which may seem strange to you, but because I was so married to my husband and he was such a formidable person and personality, the men I worked with knew I wasn’t on the prowl for another partner. So they felt safe. I could be myself with them and they could be themselves with me. I do have a lot of male friends as well as female friends.
Q: What is your favorite thing about Boulder County?
A: The ‘live and let live, but fight for what you think’ attitude that people have. When I say live and let live, there really are many, many differing opinions, but I don’t find that people are left out because they have differing opinions; I think they’re included. I am kind of a direct person. If I have something important to say, I want to say it to the person that it would matter to, not behind his back. I find that to be true with a lot of the people that I have worked with. It’s a blessing. You know?
Q: I agree. That is definitely the feel of Boulder. I totally agree with that. My Mom always tells me, if you are going to say something behind someone’s back, get ready to say it to their face. If you live like that, you’re good.
A: Really what you are going to say isn’t a criticism, it is an observation. It depends on how you hear something.
Q: Very true, because there can be so many interpretations of what you hear. What do you see in the future for Boulder County?
A: I think that we are at critical point right now because we’ve done so much environmentally and we have our open space but that is guarded and amplified by Ecocycle, waste management—everything that we do. And yet to keep the community vibrant, we need jobs. If you want to have your young people find ways to climb a ladder and reach what they are reaching for you have to have, the nasty word is growth. I think development might be a better word and less scary then growth. I think the State of Colorado is in somewhat the same position.
Q: Yes, that is my next question. What do you think is in the future for Colorado as well?
A: We don’t know whether we are a red, a blue or a purple state.
Q: That is also a true story. Every year it is different.
Q: It depends on the personality of the politically dominant leaders of the time. I think people like John Hickenlooper because he is direct. When he got a business in downtown Denver and somebody was about to get a (parking) ticket, he’d put quarters in the parking meter. Human things like that.
A: Exactly, just be normal, be yourself, right? That’s what it is about. Don’t be fake for other people, be yourself. It’s just like you with your colleagues, right? You can be yourself around them; they can be themselves around you. So you think in the future it will still just be unsure?
Q: I think it is the tension between environmental concerns and growth concerns. The development concerns. And what do I see for the state? I do think people are more open-minded here. At least what I’ve seen in my lifetime. And, I think our climate is a huge attraction.
A: You look at the weather and the seasons here. We actually have four seasons. And Colorado is a huge place for entrepreneurism as well. People come to Colorado and start a company and they don’t want to leave because it is phenomenal here.
Q: That is why Broomfield has grown so much. They grew out of Boulder. And I think now Louisville and Lafayette are taking on some of that. Whoever buys the ConocoPhillips land in Louisville will have the last big piece of land available anywhere around here. It isn’t open space.
A: Last question. Can you tell me one of your memorable experiences in Boulder County that has changed and shaped you as a person?
Q: It was giving birth to my boys. When we decided, well there was never any question that we wanted to have children. When we talked to our obstetrician, who was a neighbor and a friend. They were kidding me because I had read a book called Natural Childbirth, and since the American Indian days, women hadn’t had natural childbirth in Boulder, Colorado. Well, we did. That meant that my husband could be in the labor room and the delivery room, and not faint, but support. The moment of birth is so glorious. Every fiber of your being is so dedicated to this new life. Each one of those births was really life-affirming. The world changes, so of course life changes. I don’t know what we are going to be like in one hundred years. Are we going to be a socialist nation? I hope not. I think the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are more important than ever. Gives you something to really hang on to.
A: Thank you!