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Retired Hillsborough judge, 89


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 10, 2000

Robert W. Patton, a retired Hillsborough County circuit judge, died Friday (April 7, 2000) at Canterbury Towers adult living facility. He was 89.

Born in Wilmington, N.C., he came here in 1926 from Wilmington. In 1928, he was a member of the first graduating class of Henry B. Plant High School. He continued his eduction at Duke University and received his law degree from the University of Florida College of Law in 1933.

A bachelor with no children, Judge Patton was remembered by friends and family as a dedicated student of the law.

"He was just really regarded as an outstanding jurist," remembers former Circuit Judge Charles H. Scruggs III, a former colleague and close friend. "He was always very well-prepared for cases. A lot of lawyers said he knew more about their cases than they did."

Assigned primarily to the civil division, Judge Patton did not decide any landmark cases, but he is remembered as having spent much time weighing judicial decisions and writing opinions.

"He was, in the purest sense, to me, what a judge should be," recalled Judge Morison Buck, who served on the bench with Judge Patton. "He was so dedicated. And, all of his, or, I guess, most of his time was spent studying up and rendering up orders and opinions."

Judge Patton's dedication earned him much respect from attorneys presenting their cases before him. According to Buck, who writes biographies of judges for the Hillsborough County Bar Association magazine, the young lawyers section of the Bar Association established the Robert W. Patton Outstanding Circuit Judge Award shortly after Judge Patton retired in 1978.

He lived most of his adult life with his mother, Nell Patton, and aunt, Dolly O'Keef, both of whom died several years ago. With no children of his own, he developed a close relationship with his goddaughter, Nancy Criswell, whom, she said, he loved like a daughter.

Judge Patton was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease about three years ago, Criswell said. "But, he fought it very bravely," she said. "He had been going to the gym and had a personal trainer. He was at the gym just three weeks ago."

His personal trainer for two years, Mary Jo Webber, said Judge Patton eventually was able to make it from his wheelchair to the aerobic stair-stepper on his own.

"The man was a blessing," she said. "He was an inspiration to so many other people in that gym, but he could never see it. He always looked to another man who had multiple sclerosis, and that man was an inspiration to him."

In addition to Criswell, survivors include two cousins, Fannie Corbett O'Keef, Wilmington, N.C., and Herbert O'Keef, Raleigh, N.C.

A graveside service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday (April 11, 2000) at Myrtle Hill Cemetery, Tampa. The family suggests memorial donations to either the Montgomery-O'Keef Scholarship Fund, Trinity Methodist Church, 1403 Market St., Wilmington, N.C. 28401, or the Parkinson's Disease Foundation.

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