A Life: Tony Patterson 1963 - 2022


Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 02-07-2022 1:24 PM

ORFORD — For nearly 30 years, Tony Patterson was a fixture behind the counter at Patterson’s Grocery and Deli.

In recent years, he put in as many as 80 hours a week and sometimes worked alone at the Orford store, which sits at the corner of Routes 10 and 25A near the Samuel Morey Memorial Bridge that spans the Connecticut River between Orford and Fairlee. When alone, Patterson manned both the register and the deli.

“He was a worker,” his younger brother Ronnie said. “They just don’t make them like that” anymore.

Amid all that work, Patterson, who lived in an apartment above the store, told his family he couldn’t find the time to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

He first got sick in mid-December when the delta variant, soon followed by omicron, was causing a surge of illness across the region. Patterson, who also had diabetes, continued working for 10 days before he called a friend to drive him to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon. Once there, he spent Christmas and New Year’s on a ventilator. After developing blood clots, he died at the age of 58 on Jan. 5.

“I guess I might have closed the store, but that was his choice,” his mother Carol Porter said. “So he never went and got the shot. He just couldn’t.”

In addition to being a hard worker who logged long hours at the store, Patterson loved people and sports.

People would come into the store and ask, “What do you think of the game last night?” and then the conversation would begin, Porter said.

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His favorite team was the Patriots, and he had held season tickets for the Pats since 2002, but he also could comfortably converse about the Red Sox or the Celtics. He knew all their numbers and statistics, Porter said.

“His passion was sports,” she said.

Born on May 8, 1963 to Porter and the late Ronald Patterson Sr., Patterson grew up in Windsor where he attended elementary and high school, and excelled in athletics. He graduated from Windsor High School in 1981.

Scott Hammond, a Windsor classmate, said Patterson was like a brother to him. They grew up playing basketball together and causing mischief, which Hammond declined to detail.

“He liked to be mischievous,” Hammond said.

The two friends kept up over the years through regular visits, sometimes in Patterson’s store or during trips to Patriots games and the associated tailgating.

“He’s going to be missed,” Hammond said.

Lyme resident Steve Pushee first came to know Patterson when they were children and Patterson spent summers in Lyme helping his grandparents Zane and Dolly Campbell at the Lyme Country Store.

There was “one common passion that we had,” Pushee said. “It was basketball.”

In the late 1970s, The Lyme School gym was open for pickup games on summer evenings, Pushee said.

At the end of a work day, Pushee would help Patterson refill the coolers or do other odd jobs at the store so they could go play, he said. Sometimes they would hitchhike down to Hanover to play in Dartmouth College’s gym, which at the time was open to the public, Pushee said.

Hitchhiking wasn’t the only danger the boys faced together. In July of 1980, both boys were sleeping in the Campbells’ apartment above the Lyme Country Store when it caught on fire.

That was as “close as I’ve ever come to dying,” Pushee said. He credited the Campbells’ dog, an elkhound named Sam, with saving their lives by awakening them in time for them to escape. No one was injured in the fire, but the nearly 200-year-old building was a total loss, according to the July 11, 1980 edition of the Valley News.

The “whole upstairs was completely filled with smoke,” Pushee said. If it “wasn’t for that dog we would have been dead.”

The Campbells eventually rebuilt and after graduating from high school, Patterson worked at the Lyme store for about a decade.

While in Lyme, Patterson coached and played Amateur Athletic Union and Central Vermont League men’s basketball. He coached the Lyme girls’ basketball team, founded the Lyme Recreation Committee and led efforts to construct basketball and tennis courts on Post Pond.

Patterson coached Tim King’s middle school basketball teams in Lyme in the mid-1980s. Patterson was a good coach, who pushed the boys to build new ball-handling skills and mixed up drills to keep things interesting, King said.

Beyond the activity on the court, the incident that sticks in King’s mind the most from those days is the time he dislocated his hip during a game. He had to be hospitalized and “Tony never left my side,” King said.

Patterson “was more than just a coach,” King said. He was a “mentor and a great friend.”

Though King now lives in Florida, he would see Tony when he came back to the Upper Valley for visits.

“He’s going to be somebody who’s missed in the community,” King said.

Patterson’s brother Ronnie, who worked at the store in the beginning and has returned to now, said that the brothers initially put in a new septic system and redid the interior of the store.

The business has long been a family affair. Patterson’s grandmother Dolly Campbell, who died in 2015, helped at the Orford store for a time. Porter has long done the books for the business and when she was younger she also helped prepare specials and desserts, she said. Her younger sister Christie Adams has also pulled shifts, she said.

“You don’t take vacations,” Porter said of running a small business. “You don’t take days off. You just work.”

Though Patterson was diligent with the work, it was the people part of the business he liked the most, Ronnie said.

“That was his big thing was people,” Ronnie said. He “knew everybody.”

While Patterson was hospitalized, Ronnie posted updates on his condition to his Facebook page.

It was “amazing the amount of Facebook requests I got from being his brother,” Ronnie said. “Everybody under the sun wanted to know how he was doing.”

Porter said Patterson allowed people to run up tabs if they didn’t have the money for groceries.

“He would always say yes,” she said. “Not everyone has paid that back. Most of them do.”

Though Patterson’s family and friends are mourning his loss, Porter said she feels lucky to have gotten to say good bye to him via FaceTime on Dec. 20 while he was still conscious at DHMC.

“He couldn’t talk much cause he had a vent hooked up,” Porter said. She filled up most of the time they had by updating him on townsfolk.

At the end of their conversation, she said, “Tony, I love you.” He raised his hand and said, “I love you too, Mom.”

“I don’t think most people get that kind of good bye,” she said.

Following Patterson’s death, people in the community came in and said, “I want to work, don’t pay me,” Porter said.

The volunteers helped keep things running for a couple of weeks, but Porter and Ronnie have since hired some employees.

“It takes three people to do what he did,” Porter said.

In Patterson’s honor, his family has renovated the store, giving it fresh paint, installing new registers and waxing the floors.

Porter said they’re doing so with the goal of “bringing it up to the level he couldn’t obtain while he was trying to run it himself.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.