L. Brooks Patterson, a Republican who seemed to revel in confrontation during his decades of leading wealthy Oakland County north of Detroit, died Saturday. He was 80.
Patterson died at his Independence Township home, months after announcing he had late-stage pancreatic cancer, spokesman Bill Mullan said. He was halfway through a seventh term as county executive, but said in March that he would not seek re-election next year.
Patterson had been Oakland County’s chief since 1993 and served as its prosecutor from 1973 to 1988. In 1972, he served as attorney for a group that was opposing a federal judge’s order for school busing integration.
The outspoken Republican had a history of verbally sparring with other regional leaders, especially those in Detroit. He apologized last year after saying he’d rather join the Ku Klux Klan than a group of CEOs he had accused of snatching business from Oakland County to benefit Detroit.
Patterson was born in Indiana in 1939 and grew up on Detroit’s west side, according to a news release from the county. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Detroit and returned to the school to get his law degree after serving in the Army.
At the March news conference, Patterson said his priorities were to beat the cancer, however low the odds, and lead the county until his term ended.
“I’m fighting this cancer to be among the 10 percent who survive it,” he said. “I will continue to do my job as Oakland County executive alongside the members of my administration who comprise the best team anywhere in government.”
Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said in a statement his fellow Republican was “larger than life,” and “did not mince words or suffer fools.”
“Michigan has lost a leader and a visionary, but his legacy will live on. Those of us who had the opportunity to know Brooks are better off for the experience,” Shirkey said.
Despite his abrasive reputation, Patterson enjoyed friendships across the political aisle.
“Brooks Patterson was always my friend. We could disagree, but he did it with such humor it was always respectful. He loved Michigan, he loved Oakland County, his family and friends,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, widow of longtime Congressman John Dingell, who died earlier this year. “I hope he and John are sitting together and enjoying the fruits of their lives work. This has been a long hard year of losses of giants for this state.”
The county’s chief deputy executive, Gerald Poisson, will take over as executive until county commissioners appoint a successor or a special election is held.
Funeral arrangements are pending.