ST. PETERSBURG — Eugene Patterson, editor emeritus of the Tampa Bay Times, was remembered Sunday for his inspiring leadership, his sharp writing, his moral clarity, his warm friendship, his tenor singing voice and his stand against racial violence and segregation in the South.
Roughly 200 mourners attended his funeral at St. Peter's Episcopal Cathedral in downtown St. Petersburg — a funeral that Mr. Patterson, 89, had planned a year in advance of his death on Jan. 12.
"He was a man of both physical and moral courage who fought against the two greatest evils of the 20th century — Nazism in Europe and racism in his native South," said Philip Gailey, a retired editorials editor of the Times and one of three speakers who eulogized Mr. Patterson.
"He was a mighty man who loved everything that is precious and fragile in this world, and had no use for the hard souls among us."
Before Mr. Patterson embarked on a 41-year career in newspapers, he commanded a tank platoon under Gen. George Patton in World War II.
In the 1960s, he won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing at the Atlanta Constitution, where he wrote columns exhorting whites to acknowledge their responsibility for the racial fracture of the South.
Mr. Patterson was an editorial writer for the Constitution, then became executive editor of that paper and the Atlanta Journal.
Beginning in 1972, he led what was then the St. Petersburg Times through an era of rapid growth and higher journalistic standards. He retired as the paper's editor, chairman and chief executive officer in 1988.
Those who eulogized him attested to his generosity of spirit and his love of the written word.
"Nobody taught me more than Gene. Nobody showed me more about being a man. Nobody taught me more about how to live life," said his friend Dr. Richard Karl, chairman emeritus of the surgery department at the University of South Florida.
"Gene knew right from wrong with a clarity few men have ever possessed. More than that, he acted on his judgments."
Howell Raines, former executive editor of the New York Times, called Mr. Patterson "a poet laureate of the last golden age of American newspapering."
"He was a man of many parts: farm boy, soldier, scholar, journalist, bon vivant, singer of hymns, raconteur; passionate, if not particularly lucky, fisherman," Raines said. "He was the most inspiring man I have ever known."
Raines quoted from a letter that Mr. Patterson wrote to an old friend 12 days before he died:
It looks like I'm going on ahead now, but I'll be saving you a place under the prettiest shade tree on the far shore.
Mr. Patterson will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151.