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This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview of Vernon William Patterson (Collection 5, T1) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words which were recorded were omitted. In a very few cases, the transcribers could not understand what was said, in which case "[unclear]" was inserted. Also, grunts and verbal hesitations such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. Readers of this transcript should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm and even rule than written English.
. . . Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence of the speaker.
. . . . Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
( ) Word in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
[ ] Words in brackets are comments made by the transcriber.
This transcript was completed by Wayne D. Weber in March 2000.
Collection 5, T1. Interview of Vernon William Patterson by Paul Ericksen, March 4, 1985.
ERICKSEN: This is an oral history interview with Vernon W. Patterson by Paul Ericksen for the Billy Graham Center Archives. This interview took place at the Pattersons' home in Charlotte, North Carolina, on March 4, 1985, at 3:30 pm. [recorder stopped and restarted] Well, Mr. Patterson, perhaps we could begin by talking a little bit about your growing up years. Some of the other interviews that have been done previously have talked about some of the campaigns that you've been involved in. I'd like to go back and get some information on your early years. You were born in Clarksville, Virginia?
PATTERSON: On July the 20th 19...1892. And my father moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina, in...in nineteen hundred and two. I was ten years old then. I had a younger brother, Raymond, who later be...was called by...as a nickname, Rick, which stuck to him all his life. We were brought up then and in...in Spartanburg from my age ten and my brother's eighteen months younger. He taught at Wofford College for more than fifty years.
ERICKSEN: Your father did?
PATTERSON: My brother.
ERICKSEN: Your brother did.
PATTERSON: Raymond. Raymond Patterson, R.A. Patterson, whose nickname was Rick and then that was what people generally called him through his [pauses]...through his later years. So we...we lived there until [pauses] I moved to Louisville, Kentucky. I'll tell about the details of that later.
ERICKSEN: What was...what was it that your father did?
PATTERSON: He was in a hardware store in Clarksville, Virginia. And he had a [pauses]...a heavy fire that was very costly. And the ba...the ba...the banker there foreclosed the mor...the mortgage that he had on his nice cottage that he was buying there and he felt that he had to move. My mother had one...had one sister who lived in South Carolina in Spartanburg, the only person we knew in South Carolina. Of course, she had two other sisters but I'm speaking of the one that lived in South Carolina in Spartanburg. So my father decided to move there which we did in nineteen hundred and two. And I was brought up there, graduated in the high school, and then studied a while in Wofford College. My brother taught as I said at Wofford...Wofford College in...in the biography dep...in the biology department for more than fifty years and he died there.
ERICKSEN: I think when we were talking before...before we turned the tape recorder on you said that you were converted when you were fifteen.
PATTERSON: Fifteen years old.
ERICKSEN: Can you tell me about that?
PATTERSON: Yes. Doctor [pauses, clears throat]...maybe I...I don't remember his name. A Methodist evangelist was holding [pauses]...no...no I'm mistaken there. A Doctor Williams, I believe, held a meeting there in...in 1907 when I was fifteen years old. And I went forward and made a profession of faith in the First Baptist Church and was baptized along with my brother short...shortly after that. Both of us were baptized at the same time.
ERICKSEN: Can you remember anything about the service? The...perhaps what the minister talked about, what it was about the...the sermon that....
PATTERSON: That was Doctor [clears throat, pauses].... My memory is at...at fault and anyway about that right now. I have a...my mother's Bible that my mother gave me when I graduated from high school. And the...in the fly leaf of that it is recorded July the 7th, I believe, nineteen [pauses] s...nineteen hundred and seven when I was fifteen years old. And we were bapt...my brother followed my and...in...in his profession of faith. There was a Doctor [pauses]...I...I...I can't remember his name right now but my son Vernon Patterson, living now in Spartanburg and in the general insurance business, has m...the Bible in which...in which my mother gave me when I graduated from high school and that record is written in that and it's in his possession. He is keeping many of the family records there in his safe because my brother...his brother, twin brother, Virgil, was moving about from one place to another so much in those days that he'd had no safe place to keep these family records. But Vernon has...has them in his safety de...in his safe in his office. And my Bible, I've...I've turned over to him to...to [pauses] keep and the...the dates and details of that are written in that, [unclear] the evangelist's name. Right for the moment I...maybe I'll think of it before this interview is over.
ERICKSEN: Do you recall prior to that...that service thinking about spiritual things?
PATTERSON: Yes. [clears throat] I thought a great deal about them, and [clears throat] I got under conviction more than once but I was quite timid at that age. I wanted to go forward several times but I was so timid I...I did [pauses]...let the opportunity go. And finally when this Doctor [pauses] (maybe I can tell you this before you leave; right now his name escapes me but he was a very fine preacher)...and I got under conviction [clears throat] and I felt that I should go forward that night but [pauses] I...I was timid and...and was afraid. I was thinking that many would be...might be laughing or something of that. Later I found that one of the prominent lawyers there told me he had instead of laughing had been praying for me. But I made a decision the night before I did go that if I was just sitting in a seat up in the balcony right next to the aisle where I could get out easily I would do it. So that night I got on my bicycle and rode to the church with my jaw set and determined to go and when the invitation was given I walked to the front.
ERICKSEN: What...what kind of follow-up was there [pauses] arranged by the evangelist or the people coordinating the...the service?
PATTERSON: I don't remember [pauses] any at that time. I don't remember any. I don't believe they'd had much follow-up. The evangelist was there for about two weeks, I think, not more than that I'm sure. And after the meeting I don't remember that any definite follow-up was made. I [pauses]...I lived at that time [clears throat] a half block from a Methodist church and I was soon asked to teach a boy's class there in that Methodist church which I did. And it was there that I made several important decisions in my life. The tobacco question was one of them. A lady from the North, I forget her name, had come down and talked to a group of us boys about the smoking of cigarettes. And I made up my mind I wouldn't smoke cigarettes. But shortly after I joined the First Baptist Church, which is up on Main Street, I was asked to teach in this Bethel Methodist Church a half a block from where I lived. So I taught the Bible there to a bunch of teenage boys. And I decided for myself that I would not...not only...I signed a pledge not to smoke cigarettes (I had done that when the lady came to talking to boys in Spartanburg about the dangers of cigarettes), but I hadn't made a decision about tobacco as a whole. So when I began teaching that Methodist teenage boys I got to asking myself, "How can I ask them [clears throat] to...to [pauses]...not to s [pauses]...not to smoke, i I...if they catch me pining [?]...smoking a pipe or...or cigar?" And I reasoned to myself, "Well, that's tobacco also." So I decided I'd leave the whole thing off and I...I so I never smoked or...or used tobacco at all, for which I'm now greatly thankful.
ERICKSEN: You might not have made it to ninety-two.
PATTERSON: Yeah. I realized that I...I had to be consistent in teaching those boys. And if I smoked a pipe or dr...or cigar but told them not to smoke cigarettes, it was all tobacco so they would count me as being inconsistent. So I just decided never to take...to use tobacco in any form, for which I thanked the Lord many times si...si...since the years since...in the since...in the years since.
ERICKSEN: What about your...your family did you grow...was your family a Christian family? Were you exposed to the gospel as you were growing up?
PATTERSON: [clears throat] No, my family were Christians. My grandmother [clears throat, pauses] had a very interesting experience. Her...her...her...her...her father owned a great...a big plantation in Mel...Mecklenburg County, Virginia. And they...he was Captain Bob Overbey...Overbey. And one of his close friends was Captain Edwin Anderson Williams, who's a banker in Clarksville about seven miles west of the old plantation house known as...as White House. Well, Captain William's son graduated from the male college of...of R...Randolph Mo...Randolph-Macon, which was located about fifteen miles east of Clarksville where I was living over at Boydton. And his son Charles Edwin Williams graduated from the male [pauses] division of Randolph-Macon College. It was...been moved up to Ashland, Virginia, long ago though, long before that...after that. And he did...he graduated from Randolph-Macon College in...in 1849. The gold rush had just developed...had broken out in California and he got excited about that and went up to Richmond and took a train down to Norfolk and there he boarded...he got on a...a sea going ship that sailed around Cape Horn to Cali...to San Francisco, and then went up into the mountainous mining county of Weaverville of Trinity County, and the little town of Weaverville and settled down there. That was in 1849. In 1856 he came back to the old White House. They...it's [pauses] my mother's...my grandmother's home and persuaded her to go to marry him and go out to California. So she did and they lived up in Weaverville, Trinity County, California. He was in a Democratic [pauses] neighborhood in the litt...little town of Weaverville, but while he was in...he was in the...the county was Republican, but he...though he was a Democrat they elected him judge as being the...the best qualified man they had. So he was a superior court judge there until he died and [pauses]...but he never returned. So...and my...my grandmother [clears throat] couldn't return during the war [Civil War] until after the war was over. And then her grandfather [father?] sent for her, Captain Bob Overbey he was...that was his name. O-V-E-R-B-E-Y. And they brought the family back. That family included my grandmother, Rosalie Overbey Williams, and my mother, Catherine [pauses] Patterson, Catherine [pauses] Overbey...Catherine Overbey Patterson. No, Catherine [pauses] Patterson, and...no, oh it wasnt'. I'm mixed up. Excuse me. [pauses] My mother was Catherine O....Catherine [pauses] Williams, Catherine Williams, and her three children. Mother was the older one and then there was Rebecc...there...then there was [pauses] Roberta and...and Lucille and Mary. And my grandfather, when his first child was coming wanted a boy and he had decided if...if he had a son he would name him Robert E. Lee, but when it was a girl he compromised and named her Jeffie, Catherine Jennifer...Jeffie, Catherine O. Williams, and named for Jeff[erson] Davis [Southern general during the Civil War]. And then when the next child came he named her Roberta for Roberta [Robert ?] Lee. She...and then there was Lucille and Mary. Four...four children he had. But my grand...great...my great-grandfather, Captain Bob Overbey, sent them money after the war was over to come, but my grandmother's husband wouldn't come at...with her and never did return to Virginia and lived his life out...out there. But they came back by Panama, not the canal. There was no canal there then but across the isthmus. And I asked Mother if she had a black nurse when she was in California and she said, "No, she...her nurse was an Indian." There were no blacks out there and the first black she ever saw was in Panama. Well, they came on back and lived at the White House which was the center of a large plantation. The size of it might be estimated by this...this...this incident. When the Civil...when the War Between the States broke out my grand...great-grandfather Captain Bob Overbey had nine daughters and one son, Camillus [sp?] Overbey was the son's name. And the rule at that time was (the South was without a...an army; they had to build a volunteer army)...and the rule was that whoever [clears throat] org...organized a company would go in as captain. So Camillus [sp?] Overbey organized a company and [clears throat] Ca...his father outfitted the whole company right from the plantation. The shoes were made there, the leather were made there, the shoe...and they were made in shoes, and the...the cotton for the underwear and the wool for the gray uniforms. All of the uniform was furnished for the whole company except the metal parts which they couldn't make, the buttons and...and the belt buckles and so on. And they went into [clears throat]...as company in the sixty-s... sixty-third Virginia regiment in Wise's Brigade. Up in [recording is distorted and tape becomes difficult to hear] VMI, o which my sons went and my grandson is now about to graduate)...up in VMI [clears throat] they have a great picture of the Battle of New Market [New Market, Virginia, 1864] in which the Wise's Brigade fought right in the center. And they...they were faced by a very strong Northern Army and they...they, in the early part of the battle the Wise's Brigade broke and the...the line of the Confederates was...was opened up and they couldn't bring the...the two...to the two branches of the army back together, so they had ordered the Virginia cadets...Virginia Military In...Institute cadets up to...up to the battle and they were ordered into the opening that had been made in the line. General Abernathy, Aber...Abercromby said that...said as he gave the order, "May God Almighty forgive me for giving this order." And he...he ordered them, the VMI Cadets, fifteen, sixteen, eighteen year old boys right into the center of the battle. And they, along with my great-uncle [pauses] Camillus [sp?] Overbey's company, of which he was captain, they broke the line of the Northern Army and...and made...and won a significant battle which is pictured now in the Jackson Hall at Virginia Military Institute.
ERICKSEN: That's...that's very interesting. You mentioned awhile back I guess it was your grandmother or your great-grandmother having a strange or interesting spiritual experience. Do you recall?
PATTERSON: I don't know just what you referred to.
PATTERSON: My grandmother was a very godly and a devout Christian. Once my wife was sitting by her when we were living in Spartanburg and they were serving communion [sneezes] and my grandmother passed the cup and bread by and wouldn't acc...wouldn't take it. And by...and my wife asked her why that was and she said, "Well, I've fallen out with Raymond my brother. I...and I...I wasn't...I wasn't feeling right about...toward him so I wouldn't take the communion." She was very devout and she was a really a wonderful, wonderful lady. She lived to be ninety-two years old. And I remember as a boy when seven...at least seven of her sisters came by to visit us and all of them were over seventy years old.
ERICKSEN: So [pauses] did your grandmother have an influence...
ERICKSEN: ...on your spiritual life?
PATTERSON: Oh yes, she had a very, very great influence. She was a ver...really very wonderful character and a very devout Christian. Now my father [clears throat] was also a Christian. He was a deacon in the First Bapt...in the Baptist Church in Clarksville. But one of his fellow deacons foreclosed his org [pauses]...his org, his [pauses] mortgage on the little cottage we lived in and he...he was very much bi...ambivalent about that. That was the occasion that led him to move down to Clark...to Spartanburg. My great-aunt Lucille had married Doctor...Doctor Fladger, F-L-A-D-G-E-R, and was living in Spartanburg and she...that was the only family we knew in South Carolina. So we moved down there and lived close to her. And my grandmother...my grandmother really was a very remarkable...remarkable person. She brought all of her family alone, four daughters...alone across Panama and...after the war and took them to her father's home and they were brought up there at the old White House as...as they called it, which was about a mile from a very famous [pauses] springs in those days. It's a very...a common place for people in the summer time to go to the springs for summer and Buffalo Lithia Springs was a mile from old White House which is seven miles west of Clarksville. The...the cemetery is there, a large cemetery is there about fifty feet by seventy-five feet surrounded by a high stone wall. And the whole family is...is [pauses] buried there. I mean, [pauses] all of the [pauses] a...a great many of them at least. Some of them may not be...may have been buried there but it's a large cemetery. And there are individual graves with mon...monuments so are on them. [clears throat] And they...and then the whole family are condensed in one large monument with them all liv...[clears throat] all recorded. As I said there's one son, Camillus Overbey and nine daughters. And of those nine daughters all were...were married there in the old White House. And there are...in that nine there were [door slams in background] three captains, one major, two doctors at least. So they put there whole family on the one monument. [clears throat]
ERICKSEN: You mentioned the influence that your grandmother had on your [door slams] ...your spiritual life. Can...who were other people who had an influence on your spiritual life, either before you became a Christian or following your conversion?
PATTERSON: Well, as I have said we lived at that time just about a half block from Bethel Methodist Church. And the Methodists were quite sound in their theology at that...at that time. And they were in...those were two...this Bethel Church was a very strong church. And most of my young friends in that neighborhood went to that church so I went there more than any other church. And we had the influence of that. My playmates, we had a fine group of boys and girls that went about calling ourselves the South Church Group. We...we...we had a fine neighborhood to live in and a...a very [pauses] religious [pauses] neighborhood. [pauses] But I went more in those days, in those younger days to the Metho...that Bethel Methodist Church than to the Baptist Church. [unclear] my father, I might say this. [clears throat] Father was a very sensitive man. He was greatly impressed by what he called chaste speech and chaste literature and he told me again and again that he believed that his mother was descended from...from royalty because she had such a queenly bearing. She was Martha Agnew who married my father...my grandfather John...James L. Patterson, James Luck Patterson. The Luck was for a prominent Baptist preacher, named for him. He lived in Bedford County, Virginia, at...about six miles out of what was then called Bedford City, but the "City" has been named...has been dropped from the name now. [pauses] My father [clears throat] as I've said had a very sensitive disposition and for years he couldn't forgive his fellow deacon foreclosing that...that [pauses] mortgage from him [?] which forced him to move. And he harbored unforgiveness and it was...it made him really miserable himself. And he didn't want anything to do with the church and he wouldn't go for years. And in 1918,  I believe, Billy Sunday held a meeting there in Spartanburg. And my father and the leading...many of leaders, leading men in...in the city went forward in that meeting and father went with them. [begins to cry] Up to that time he didn't even want a preacher to come to see him and he rarely went to church. He was just harboring resentment and unforgiveness. But after that...after that meeting with Billy Sunday his life was really changed. Instead of shying away from ministers and not wanting them to come he sought them out. And he went back to church regularly and he was a changed man. He was...he was a very...he had laid a tremendous en...emphasis on strict honesty. He said to us and with my children before him when he was on his dying bed or shortly before it...he held out his hands and he said, "I just want you children to know that never a s...never a [pauses]...a [pauses]...an...an dishonest...never a dishonest [pauses] penny has crossed these hands." The story told of him by Colonel H...Colonel [pauses]...(what was his name?)...Colonel...the one who founded the Mili...Military Institute there at Chatham, Virginia, where father went as a young man. That was another mistake he made. When he got...he was living in Bedford and brought up there and he told me when he got beside with me one day that when he was sixteen years old he worked hard on the farm. And they had a good...good year that year and he was making up his mind. He had about made up his mind to go off to college or go off to school. And just before about August he got a letter from his older brother who had a wholesale business in Chatham, Virginia, and saying, "Virgilius, I have a good job for you here if you just come...if you want to...if you want to take it you'll have to come at once though." He said, "It'll pay you [pauses]...it'll pay...pay a hundred dollars a year and room and board but you'll have to come at once to get it." Well, that was too great and wonderful a...an offer in those days, so he decided to take it and didn't...instead of going to college. Well, one of the stories they tell about him there was that there was a man in Chatham that ran away to Texas and was charged with embezzlement. And there was some Treadway...there was a lawyer there named Treadway and his younger brother was a great friend of my father's. He told me one...he got me aside when we were out together one day and sat and told me these things, this along with other things in his younger years. He said, "My best...one of my best friends was George Treadway," the brother of the lawyer that was defending this man charged with embezzlement. And he said, "George made a statement that I didn't think was true and I...I shouted...I shouted out...I said, "Well that's a lie!" And I had hardly gotten the mouth out...the words out of my mouth before George hit me." George was his best friend. [laughs] Well, that wasn't so unusual but his comment on it, as he looked back on the incident. They were separated soon from the fight. Nobody was really hurt. But his comment on it stuck in my mind. He said, "Vernon, [pauses] I shouldn't have hit George." He said, "I shouldn't have called him a liar and if he'd called me a liar I'd a hit him." [laughs] To...to call a person a liar in those day was almost like the first fighting in the...in the, the first bull in a fight. And he was very, very strict in his view of what was...what was earnest, what was honest and...and what was dishonest. If one of his customers (he was a salesman after that with the same company that I went with)...if any of his cus...one of his customers would do something he thought to be dishonest, even if is was one of his best con...con...customers he wouldn't go...have anything to with them after that. But to show you how he changed in his...in his last days: While he was on his death bed, he called my brother and had asked him to go to town and get Mr. Band who was in the printing business there in Spartanburg to come and to see him. Now, [pauses] Father had said before that Mr. Band, he thought was, well had treated him badly and some of the sales. (They sold similar products.) And he thought Mr. Band would...would sell it...sell it...sell it at loss just to keep him from getting a sale. He made that statement to me. But then those later years, he got...called my brother and he said he wanted...asked him to go and get Mr. Band to come to see him. And Mr. Band came [sneezes] and he said, "Mr. Band, I want to apologize to you for things I've said about you." [begins to cry] But Mr. Band said, "I didn't know anything about it, Mr. Patterson." He said, "Well, anyway I want to apologize to you. I've said things I shouldn't have said about you and I want to apologize." [begins to cry] So he was...he was really.... And then instead of wanting to keep the preachers away, he wanted them to come. And he had a Bible with him there on the bed until he died. I was holding his hands when he died and I was confident that his head was resting in the arms of the Lord.
ERICKSEN: When we were talking this morning you had mentioned that in your later teen years you had goals for yourself and the Lord blocked all those and moved you into something else. What were the goals that you had set for yourself?
PATTERSON: I don't think they were well divined [clears throat]...defined but I was gonna...I had great confidence in myself and I was going to be somebody great. I don't know...I had many things but anyway I'd be up at the top somewhere. And then I felt quite confident of my ability...ability in many ways. When I graduated from high school I was offered two four-year colle...four...two four-year scholarships, four year scholarships by two colleges. But my health broke down at that time. I think it was the Lord's working in preparing me. [sighs, tape recorder is turned off and restarted] The first thing I had to do was to learn to submit my will wholly to...to Him and trust the Lord completely.
ERICKSEN: How did you learn that?
PATTERSON: And...and the Lord accomplished that by just letting me go ahead and make a decision and then He would just knock it to pieces.
ERICKSEN: Can you think of an example of that?
PATTERSON: Yes. [clears throat] My health broke down in that time. I was in bad health. And World War I broke out and I wanted to get in the army. My brother went in the army and I wanted to get in the army but they wouldn't accept me because of my health at that time. So I made it.... The...the...the YMCA which was very strong in the...in its Christian emphasis in those days. They hadn't just put the...the C out of the YMCA. They had a...had a strong Christian influence there in Spartanburg and on us boys especially. They had gospel band there that they...of the boys. I was president of that after awhile. But we.... [pauses] I wanted so strongly to get in the army that they had opened up...the YMCA had opened up its center at...at Blue Ridge. And they were having car...the YMCA group organized over there that summer to go France. Well, since I couldn't go in the army I decided to go up there and see if I could get in the YMCA group to go. Well, there I met Dr. A.T. Robertson. Dr. Robertson at that time was considered the greatest New Testament and the greatest Greek scholar in the world. And I took a class from him and we became great friends. But I offered myself to go over in this organ...this group that was being organized to go to France. Well, nobody s-s-somehow didn't s-s-seem to think I...there was...they didn't seem to appreciate my great abilities. So nobody noticed me. But about the last day of the conference I was sitting...I'd already gone ahead and willfully just resigned from my company, the American Sales Book Company. So I was out of a job but the last day had come. And I was sitting on the front porch of Robert E. Lee Hall up there looking across the valley. And by me was Mr. [unclear]...the educational secretary of the YMCA in Louisville. Well, he offered me a job of coming up there as his assistant. Seventy-five dollars a month. Well, I was ready to grab...to grab anything then almost so I...I went on up there and I served as...of a...as assistant educational secretary for about two-and-a-half years. And then two of the [pauses] leading real estate...life insurance men in Louisville asked me to come in with them and join them in a different method of selling life insurance that they were forming under the Collagen [sp.?] Davidson Company. And they took me in as treasurer. Well, I'd been visiting my...w...Vi...Miss Vida Welfley. V-I-D-A W-E-L-F-L-E-Y, whose father had been [pauses]...he had been secretary of the Senate, one of the secretaries of the Senate in Washington...
ERICKSEN: The state Senate?
PATTERSON: ...for years and then was a judge in...in Washington. And they'd built a big house there on...at...on Pennsylvania Avenue, 1000 Southeast [door slams in background?] Pennsylvania Avenue. And then another big house on the six hundred acre farm down below Manassas at Bristow. Well, we...they were living up there and there was no human reason...of means that I...I would have ever have met her. But her father's health got bad and he moved (he was a lawyer there back...had his law office back of the...the...the...the Library of Congress)...and he...so they moved to Asheville for his health. And that...that's...at that time I was given this job by [pauses] this sale...that I mentioned in...out of Charlotte, the testimo...the territory including Asheville and I made that my headquarters. And so the boys there told me one night that...one day they were going down to see [pauses] three girls that didn't like to go to movies and up town and they had more fun at home. So they were going down there. All they had to do was just phone and whichever one of the girls answered asked if they could come down there and they said they'd like to take me. So I went with them later one night when I was in Asheville and one of the girls, I think it was Blanch, answered the door and the first ones I was introduced to was Judge Welfley and Miss Welfley. And then the other two and Vida and me, three...three girls. Well, I...I got very, very friendly with Judge Welfley. I loved to talk to him. He loved to talk about the Bible and prophecy and the things of the Lord. He was really a wonderful man and so was Miss Welfley. She was...she was really a very rare character, a wonderful, wonderful lady. So whenever I'd go through Asheville or come into Asheville I'd go there...down there from time to time. And finally [pauses] about...I...I wouldn't...I wouldn't propose to...to Vida until I got a job that I thought I could make a living with. So when this Collagen Davidson Company was formed they put me in as treasurer and gave me very glowing report, a...a very gr...gr...growing promise of success. So I proposed to Vida and took her as a bride up to...to Louisville. Well, I'd met Dr. Robertson beforehand, so the Robertson family took us...took her into their home almost like a daughter. And [pauses] we lived...we lived there for about a year or so and ought to be a little more...more than a year. And our first child was about to be born and one day I sat in the office for...right at that time when I was...I was accomplishing what I was assigned to do, which was to get the prominent businessmen of the city to turn over their life insurance policies to Collagen and Davidson and let they made a resume of it and show just what the income would...what the policies' income would produce and ask them whether or not that would be enough to support their family if they died. But I got...I was successful in my part of it. I got those men to turn over their policies to Collagen and Davidson and they made beautiful analysis of it and was about ready to present them and they were expecting that that would result in some big sales of real est...life insurance. Well, just at that time the [pauses]...the deflation came October...
ERICKSEN: Of the economy?
PATTERSON: October after World War I. It was just [pauses] right over night. The Ballard [sp?] Mills there lost over...it said over s...s...s...over three-quarters of a million dollars overnight. And all over the country businesses were failing. The deflation after World War I just cut the value of things in half just about. Well, no, the ones I'd been calling to...calling on were the...the [pauses] wealthier men of the city and none...and they were about the most [unclear] than anybody. So I was sitting there and I came...I was sitting there in the office. They had a lovely office in one of the best buildings of downtown Louisville and...and beautiful engraved stationary, black and...in black and red and my name up at the top there, Vernon W. Patterson, treasurer. Well, I sat there and I...they were giving me a...a....a small advance and I sat there and I...while Collagen and Davidson went out to lunch. And I just got to thinking, "I'm not making a living. I ca...and [pauses] I have a baby about to be born," and I was in desperate shape. I was in desperate condition there. Collagen and Davidson were just a good as they could be but I couldn't depend on that. So I was really at the bottom of my...at the end of my road just about and then in...in a situation I didn't know what to do.
ERICKSEN: Now was it...was it shortly after that that you started working for Moody [Moody Bible Institute] then?
PATTERSON: Well, I just bowed my head. I was alone in the office. And I prayed earnestly for the Lord to show me what to do. And I felt a strong impulse, "Write to Dr. James M. Gray."
ERICKSEN: Who was?
PATTERSON: Dean of Moody Bible Institute. I'd never met Dr. Gray. He didn't know me but I'd written a poem, I think, and sent it to him which he published in the Moody Monthly. That was my only contact. But there's...there was a strong impression, "Write Dr. Gray." So I sat down. I took that beautiful stationery we had with my name at the top and I asked him if there were any place in...at Moody Bible Institute that he could find for me. I got a nice letter promptly from Dr. Gray saying that he would give the letter consideration. Well, this was last of July. I didn't know it but Dr. Gray took all August as a vacation.
ERICKSEN: So you had to wait?
PATTERSON: I just stewed and prayed and prayed, and prayed. I waited till September and I think I wrote him another letter reminding him of the first letter. And about a week after that I got a letter from him saying, "Bring...bring your wife and [begins to cry] daughter up for...for an interview with me.
VIDA PATTERSON: [Mrs. Patterson had previously quietly entered the room] She was just three months old.
PATTERSON: Well, we packed up in a hurry and left to...to Chicago and they put us up in a nice room and some of the students looked after the baby and they were lovely...as lovely as they could be. But it was three days up there before I could ever see Dr. Gray. And then came the call that Dr. Gray wanted to see me. Well, I went over to the old Institute building, the first building they had, and climbed up about six s-s-six stoop...six steps to the mezzanine there and turned to the left and there was the...a door, the upper part glass and on the glass was written D.L. Moody's office. And through the glass I could see the roll-top desk of Dwight L. Moody and between that and the table in front of it, or on to the side of it sat a dignified man with an iron gray beard. Well, I walked in. I'd heard that Dr. Gray ruled that Institute with an iron hand, which had a lot of truth in it. But he was just as kind and [begins to cry] gentle and considerate as any man could be. He talked with me and asked me a number of questions.
ERICKSEN: Remember what any of them were?
PATTERSON: And...no. But he wanted to know more about my...my...my...whether or not, I guess, I was really a Christian. That was the main thing. And I don't know but I heard someone say later that Dr. Gray, while he was on his vacation in August, had come...been in a Bible conference where Dr. A.T. Robertson was. And he probably had asked Dr....Dr. Robertson about me and about my request.
VIDA PATTERSON: Well, you dated it [?].
PATTERSON: Well, I talked with him about ten minutes and he said he'd put me on...
VIDA PATTERSON: The staff.
PATTERSON: ...on the...the staff. He was organizing some....putting in several field secretaries, so he told me he...he would give me the position as a field secretary. Well....
ERICKSEN: Which field did he assign you to?
PATTERSON: Field secretary for Moody.
ERICKSEN: To any particular part of the country?
PATTERSON: Well, he sent me to Texas and all over the South.
ERICKSEN: Texas east?
PATTERSON: Gave me...gave me a list of his...his contacts down there that he wanted me to visit. And I'd go to see them all down there. But I started...he started me then right there in Chicago. And one interesting contact I made there...I believe I've told you this. I'll tell it again...
VIDA PATTERSON: You did that.
PATTERSON: ...since you're recording it. I was given the name of a lawyer down in the...
VIDA PATTERSON: [unclear] Daddy's lawyer [?].
PATTERSON: Vida, it's being re.... [gasps, pauses] A Mr. Barnard I believe was the name. He was a lawyer downtown, pretty prominent man evidently. I went by to see him about noon and he....
ERICKSEN: This was in Chicago?
PATTERSON: Yeah, in downtown Chicago in the Loop...Loop district. That's were he started my out. Well, I...I went to see this Mr. Barnard, the prominent lawyer and he was out and the secretary said he'll be back about five o'clock. So I was in that vicinity about five o'clock so I went up and sure enough he was there. And I was ushered into his office, large office about twenty by thirty or more. And he was sitting on a desk way over to the far side and I walked over and [clears throat] he welcomed me. And I said, "Mr. Barnard, I [pauses]...I want to speak to you about the Moody Bible Institute." And I pulled out my little book and was about to show him the pictures of the Institute and tell him about it. He said, "Moody Bible Institute! You know what they're teaching out there?! They're teaching that people are lost and need to be saved!" He said, "I wouldn't give them a dime for anything!" Well, I was stunned for awhile and I said, "Well, Dr....Mr. Barnard if I'd have known that I wouldn't have bothered you." And I turned to go. I sa...and I got about nearly to the door. It was a big office. And when I got near the door he called out. "Mr. Patterson, come back here. I want to ask you a question." So I walked back. He said, "Mr. Patterson, I can tell by your accent that you're from the South. I want to ask you a question." He said, "My, I and my sons are Harvard graduates but we can't under...understand one thing. Why is it the Y.M.C.A. over here won't put a black man on the board?" I said, "Well, Mr. Barnard, I don't know but we a lot of black students out at the Y.M...out at Moo...Moody Bible Institute." He said, "What? You do. I'll give you ten dollars." [laughs] I'll give you ten dollars just for that. Well, I...I...before I...before I knew whether to...to keep it...take it or not with his antagonism against Moody I took it. And I started working [walking] off...out to the door. And I went on out...no I said, "Mr. Barnard, I want to invite you out to dinner out there. I want you to come out and visit the Moody Bible Institute." He said, "Well, I can't go tonight." This was Friday, I believe, and I said, "Well, can't you come Monday?" And he said, "Well, maybe I can." So I said, "You be sure to come. I'll be looking for you." So I went on out and I went back to the Moody Bible Institute and I went up to Dr. Gray and told him that. Well, he just chuckled a little. That night they had the staff meeting and all faculty and all were gathered around there. I was the...and I was like a...I was like a...the old [unclear], "Fools rush in where angels fear to...to tread." Dr. Gray stood up in the open floor there and conducted the meeting and he called on Mr. Layman, who had been holding a meeting over in Pontiac, Michigan, I believe, or somewhere else. And he related the outcome of his evangelistic meeting which was good. The whole faculty and staff were gathered around. And then Dr. Gray quietly said, "Well, we have one of our...we have one of our field secretaries here tonight, one of our new secretaries. And Mr. Vernon Patterson has told me a story that [laughs] I'd like for you to hear about an experience [laughs] he had today." Well, I...I just got up there and I just freely told it just like about I've told it to you. And when I got through and ended up by saying, "I've invited him to come on out here to dinner and if he comes next Monday night I'm going to introduce him to every nigger in...in the Institute." [laughs] And then I said that Dr....the whole...Bittikofer [Talmadge Bittikofer], who was the song leader he just...just threw up his hands and yelled. [laughs] And I was [unclear] broke out laughing and Dr. Gray stood there just chuckling, just chuckling, not saying anything but lau...but enjoying it. But many of the other faculty just stood there like stone, like there faces were frozen and just stared. But the whole [laughs]...the whole thing brought down the...brought the house down in laughter. Well, that's the way Dr. Gray was. And another story about Dr. Gray....
ERICKSEN: Maybe...we've been talking for close to an hour maybe we should save that for our next...our next time and take a break for now.
VIDA PATTERSON: [unclear] 4:30.
ERICKSEN: So let's...let's break now and we'll pick it up again....
PATTERSON: Alright, let me announce it on here so they'll know. Dr. Gray after that invited all of us who had been put on the...the field staff to come over to his home for dinner and I'll tell you about that.