Robert Alexander Patterson

Robert Alexander (Bob) Patterson, 83, formerly of Vinton, recently of Frederick, Md,, passed away on April 23, 2020 after a recent decline in his health.

Robert Alexander Patterson

He was born in his parents’ home on Rex Street in Rocky Mount, N.C., on September 16, 1936 to William McKinley and Mazie (Rakes) Patterson. As a child in North Carolina, Bob worked setting up bowling pins and on tobacco farms, “putting in” tobacco. His oldest brother Bill was an accomplished athlete who died at age 35 of leukemia. His next oldest brother, Walter, was also an athlete who went on to be a teacher and coach, then a principal; Walter was a strong role model for Bob. Sister Nancy was a loving presence in his life as well. He attended Arlington Street Baptist Church with his mother faithfully and was a loving and faithful servant of Jesus Christ every day of his life.

The last of four children, Bob developed a love of sports at an early age. As a child, Bob spent a lot of time at the Rocky Mount YMCA, playing sports and watching old cowboy movies on Saturday mornings. Bob was fast, could hit a baseball and could shoot a basketball. However, it almost all came to an end when he developed a serious case of rheumatic fever in the ninth grade. He was hospitalized for three months, and he felt that the illness impacted his speed in high school. Nevertheless, Bob lettered in football, basketball, and track. While Bob was quarterback and halfback, Rocky Mount High never lost more than three games in a season. He played against Sonny Jurgenson (later of the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins) while in high school and played basketball with Jackie Murdock, a standout player in the ACC. He was also scouted by the Cleveland Indians and played for a semi-pro team for a while.

While in high school, Bob met the love of his life, his future wife, Jeanette (McIntyre). They married on August 13, 1961 at West Haven Presbyterian Church in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and had three children and a wonderful life together.

Bob received an athletic scholarship to East Carolina College (now University), playing football and running track. He set a record in the 880 that remains to this day for East Carolina College. He was recruited while at East Carolina to teach science and to coach football and track at Andrew Lewis High School in Salem, beginning in 1958. Bob held several positions at Andrew Lewis in the 1960s, including chairman of the science department and athletic director.

He then became principal at William Byrd High School, in Vinton, where he remained for 34 years until 1999, the longest tenure for a Virginia high school principal at the time. He cared deeply about students, teachers, and staff, attending athletic and other events throughout his tenure, and getting to know most students by name.

When Bob retired as principal, students and faculty both shared that it was if theywere losing a member of the family. He was described as energetic, friendly, supportive, approachable, and an avid practical joker. Bob’s legacy at WBHS was commemorated by the school’s giving his name to their football stadium. Additionally, a scholarship was named for him, and is awarded to a senior at WBHS each year. He often wore a “Golden Attitude” pin and always tried to model this attitude for others and to live by the Golden Rule.

In addition to serving as principal of WBHS,  he was also involved in the Lions Club, the Virginia High School League (Hall of Fame class of 2000), the Vinton Planning Commission, the Vinton Highway Safety Commission, the Vinton First Aid Crew Board of Directors, the Dogwood Festival, and many other community organizations. He was Father of the Year for Education in the Roanoke Valley in 1985. He was a regular blood and platelet donor, donating over 35 gallons during the course of his life. After retirement, Bob volunteered at Berkshire Healthcare Center from 2006-2019. He was also a member of the Caroloa Chorus, singing at nursing homes in the Roanoke Valley area.

Bob was a man of strong Christian faith, coming to Vinton Baptist Church in 1965 from Salem Baptist Church. He taught Sunday School for about 35 years and was a deacon there, becoming a Life Deacon in 2010. He served on several Pastor’s Search Committees as well as other committees. He also preached at the Roanoke Rescue Mission on designated nights as part of the church’s outreach program.

Bob is survived by his wife of 58 years, Jeanette; three children, Leigh, Robert, and Carol; and four grandchildren, Sam, Xander, Owen, and James, all of Maryland. He is also survived by his nephew, Patrick Patterson of Vinton, as well as nieces and nephews in Illinois, Maryland and Kentucky, and by his sister-in-law, Charlotte Montgomery and her husband Ed, of Frederick, Md. In December 2019, Bob and Jeanette moved to Frederick, Md. to be near their family.

Bob touched countless lives, in his family, career, and community and will be sorely missed by so many. A joyful celebration of Bob’s life will be held at a later time. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Robert A. Patterson Scholarship Fund (Roanoke County Schools, Cove Rd.), the Autism Society, the American Diabetes Association or the RVSPCA.


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