Henry Baker Patterson

Perkinsville, Vt. — Henry “Pat” Patterson, of Perkinsville, passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by his loving family, on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, of complications following a series of strokes. He was 90 years old.

Pat was born on May 4, 1922, in Burlington, W.Va., to Sally Baker Patterson and Leo Dare Patterson. He showed great mechanical and scientific aptitude from an early age, building flying model airplanes in grade school, and an astronomical telescope for which he made all the optical and mechanical elements in his teens. He graduated from high school in Fairmont, West Virginia, and studied mechanical engineering at West Virginia University. There he met Laura Case, of Morgantown, W.Va., the love of his long life.

The Second World War interrupted his engineering studies when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. The army sent him to study meteorology and physics at UCLA for a year. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, and he and Laura were married just before he was shipped overseas to serve as a weather forecaster for flight operations in the Philippine Islands and several posts in the South Pacific theater.

After the war, he resumed his engineering studies at WVU, graduating in 1947. His career centered on research and development in the field of precision grinding technology. In the 50’s and 60’s he worked first for Bryant Chucking Grinder Company, and later for Jones & Lamson Machine Tool Company, in Springfield, Vt. His work there greatly improved the efficiency and productivity of grinding operations, shattering the then-supposed theoretical limits on the performance of grinding machines.

His work was noticed by General Motors, which recruited him to join their Advanced Engineering Staff at GM’s Technical Center in Warren, Michigan. This took considerable persuasion, as he was reluctant to leave Vermont, but GM gave him a free hand to do what he loved, and an almost unlimited budget for equipment and other support. This paid off handsomely for the corporation, as his work there greatly improved the quality and reliability of many automobile parts, while speeding up their production. It culminated in the development of a much faster and better means of grinding the lobes of camshafts—a specialized grinding machine he conceived, patented, and helped to develop. It is to this day the way camshafts are made. General Motors recognized this work by awarding Pat the very prestigious “Boss” Kettering award, the second major award he won there. He was very proud of his work at GM, and of the awards.

In the early ‘80’s, as he prepared to retire, he bought a wooded hilltop in Perkinsville. Whenever he could, he traveled to Vermont to work on clearing the land, and to begin building a house of his own design. It would be the fourth house he had built in his lifetime, largely with his own hands. When he retired in 1985, he and Laura moved permanently back to Vermont, finished the house, and moved in.

In retirement, Pat and Laura made several trips to Colorado, Montana, and other states to hike in the mountains. He was an avid gardener, an accomplished woodworker, a keen reader of popular science books, and something of a philosopher. He ran several miles a day well into his 80’s. He was the hardest worker any of us have ever known, and a man of deep integrity, who always lived according to his convictions.

He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Laura Case Patterson, and by his son, Michael and his wife, Doreen of Hinesburg, his daughter Karen and her husband, James Emerson of Brandon, and his son, Robert and his wife, Patricia Hills of Buffalo, N.Y., as well as grandchildren Jacob Patterson and his wife, Jennifer of Colchester, and Jeffery Emerson of Charlotte, Matthew Emerson and his wife, Abi of St. Albans, and Rebecca Emerson of Burlington, and one great-grandchild, Lillian Patterson. He was predeceased by his brother, Leo David Patterson.

A memorial service will be held at Grace River Church in Claremont, N.H., at 1 p.m on Friday, Dec. 7, 2012. Friends may gather following the service at the Patterson home in Perkinsville. In lieu of flowers, please make donations in Pat’s honor to the American Red Cross.

The family wishes to express deep appreciation to Judith Moses, whose kind and compassionate assistance made it possible for Pat to live his last few months in his own home.