Mary Jane Patterson, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) elder who served as a social worker and missionary to Africa before enlivening the corridors of power in the nation’s capital as director of the Presbyterian Washington Office for 13 years, died April 8 in Washington.
A native of Marietta, OH, Patterson graduated from the Ohio State University, where she majored in philosophy and accounting before earning a master’s degree in social work. She worked in the business world for a few years before church work beckoned.
Her first assignment for the PC(USA), in 1966, was as a community developer and consultant on social work for the Presbyterian Church of East Africa in Kenya. Returning to the U.S. two years later, Patterson took on urban social work as staff for the National Council of Churches’ “Crisis in the Nation” program in Chicago and Los Angeles. In 1969, she accepted a post with Protestant Community Services of the Los Angeles Council of Churches as a community organizer and ombudsperson.
Patterson was appointed associate director of the PC(USA)’s Washington Office in 1971 and in 1976 was appointed director. For the next 13 years ― until her “retirement” in 1989 ― she was a fixture on Capitol Hill, pressing the church’s case on such issues as peace, human rights, development assistance, food policy, support for the United Nations and the entire range of foreign and domestic policy issues addressed by the PC(USA) General Assembly.
Throughout her life, Patterson was a staunch advocate of civil and human rights in the U.S. and around the world and earned the trust and respect of politicians of all stripes. She served on the Presidential Advisory Board for Ambassadorial Appointments under the Carter administration and was frequently called upon for advice by President Ronald Reagan despite their disagreements on many issues.
No one ignored Mary Jane Patterson.
She was named winner of the Peaceseeker Award by the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship in 1988 and was honored as a PC(USA) Woman of Faith in 1998.
Services are pending at Sargent Memorial Presbyterian Church in Washington, where Patterson served as an elder for many years.