Times owner Nelson Poynter, who died in 1978, chose Patterson to ensure his controlling stock in the newspaper company was used to fund a school for journalists then called the Modern Media Insititute. It is now known as the Poynter Institute, which owns the Tampa Bay Times (formerly The St. Petersburg Times).
"A person — one person — had to be entrusted with fulfilling what Mr. Poynter intended," said Roy Peter Clark, the school's first faculty member. " ... He had to be totally trustworthy, so Mr. Poynter chose Mr. Patterson."
Patterson retired from the Times and Poynter in 1988.
A collection of Patterson's Atlanta Constitution columns was published in book form in 2002 as "The Changing South of Gene Patterson: Journalism and Civil Rights, 1960-1968."
Hank Klibanoff, director of the journalism program at Emory University and co-author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on press coverage of the civil rights movement, said Patterson wrote with deep-seated conviction about the troubled era.
Klibanoff said that when black churches were burned in southwestern Georgia in 1962, Patterson was "deeply disturbed" and wrote a column tweaking white people who claim to be religious but support segregation. He called on whites to raise money to rebuild the churches, sparking an effort that raised $10,000.
"When he sat down to write, that conviction came out. And it came out in just a very, very powerfully written way," Klibanoff said of Patterson.
Patterson was born in 1923 in Georgia and grew up on a small farm. School, fishing and literature were his only means of escape.
He graduated from the University of Georgia in 1943 and served in the Army in Europe during World War II. His first reporting job was at the Temple (Texas) Daily Telegram. He also had stints for United Press in Atlanta, New York and London during his journalism career.
Patterson's column "A Flower for the Graves":