Patt Sutton

Former school board president, Patt Sutton, passes away


By Amy Sutton

Mrs. Patt Sutton, two-term president of the Seattle School Board, tireless citizen advocate for equitable education, and mother of 12, left us peacefully in the early morning November 14, 2013. Patt was admired by many for her strong voice, her warmth, passion, humor and keen intellect, and above all, her unwavering commitment to social justice.

Patt was born September 12, 1927 in Oklahoma City to Ruth (Burdick) and George Lawrence Harries. As a child growing up in the Jim Crow south, she was acutely aware of the hypocrisy and unjustness of segregation. An independent thinker, she questioned inequities whenever she found them, prompting her early departure from high school, college and the Catholic Church.

Patt met her husband and life partner Dr. John William (Bill) Sutton while attending the University of Nevada. She was blessed to meet her match in a man who admired her strength and unconventiality, as well as their shared desire to “go for an even dozen.” Following their marriage in March 1949, they moved to Santa Barbara, where Bill taught chemistry at the University of California. The family relocated to Ohio in 1955 when Bill joined the faculty at Denison University. Patt supplemented their income by working as a secretary at the local inn.

As a young adult, Patt worked as a reporter at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. She returned to her true home in 1959 when Bill joined Boeing Aerospace. During this time, Patt worked nights as a rate clerk in auto freight, becoming a lifelong member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Upon learning there was no kindergarten due to a double levy loss, Patt volunteered for the school levy campaign in 1960. The next 13 years she played a pivotal role in ensuring the success of Seattle school levy campaigns, from blockwalking and attending countless meetings to coordinating campaigns citywide as the citizen vice-chair. By the late 1960s Patt was a leading expert in state education funding and finance. She served on the League of Women Voters Education Committee, Seattle Schools Condition Study, Seattle Citizens for School Support, and the Greater Seattle PTA. Elected in 1973 as Region 6 School Board Representative, Patt championed stable school funding by initiating Seattle School District v. The State of Washington, also known as the Doran decision. Serving on the Legislative Committee of the Washington State School Directors Association, Patt spent countless days in Olympia helping shape the Washington Basic Education Act and other educational legislation. In 1982, she testified on educational finance to Congress as a member of the National School Boards Association.

Patt was fiercely committed to promoting a quality education for all children, which included effective interracial programs. She co-authored the first “Student Rights and Responsibilities” handbook for Seattle schools with fellow activist Margaret Ceis after observing mistreatment of African-American students while monitoring halls. Her participation in the Citizens Committee for Quality Education and the Urban-Rural-Racially Disadvantaged (URRD) committee helped lay the groundwork for the Seattle Plan. Patt believed that Seattle schools were best served by implementing their own mandatory desegregation plan rather than a court-imposed one. She survived a recall effort, and in 1978, the Seattle School Board was selected “Citizens of the Year” by the Municipal League.

Her commitment extended to special education (the Washington Association for Retarded Children, Northwest School), gifted education (Northwest Gifted Child Association past president), the development of alternative schools, and establishing alignment of community colleges within the K-16 system. This was reflective of her desire to serve the common good and address systemic inequities that hurt children. While Patt’s 10-year tenure on the school board was controversial, her long-standing service to the community modeled for the next generation what citizenship should look like. She said that while desegregating schools and weathering two teacher strikes as board vice-president and president were hard, closing schools was the hardest thing she did.

Patt had an uncanny ability to assess a situation, ask the right questions, and suggest how a course might be righted to avoid unpleasant outcomes without missing a stitch as she knitted away. Her devotion to canines, from dachsunds to borzoi, was legendary.

After stepping back from public life, Patt spent time gardening roses and dahlias and spoiling her dogs, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

In addition to her husband, Patt is survived by children Chris (Iwona), Sue, Mark, Peg, Becky (Jay Fuller), Matthew (Ali Fujino), Andrew, Amy, Phoebe (David), Nick (Tami Peters), Joshua (Susan), and Patrick, daughter-in-law Sue, cousin Mike Griffin, and 15 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren. She was predeceased by her grandson John Sutton.

A service was held November 24.

Remembrances may be made to the Patt Sutton Scholarship through the Alliance 4 Education 509 Olive Way, Suite 500, Seattle, WA 98101-2556.

Please share your memories on the Patt Sutton Memorial Facebook page.

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