"We never know when a small gesture of kindness, an encouraging word, a smile or just having a listening ear will have a positive and uplifting impact on someone’s life! When a thank you comes back to you, there isn’t a better feeling."
For Paulette Patterson, community is everything. When she was growing up, everywhere she looked she saw people helping people, and that selfless sense of commitment has always been a part of her. As a result, there is no aspect of community life in Grande Prairie that Paulette has not been involved in by enthusiastically volunteering her time and encouraging and inspiring others to do the same.
Paulette Patterson was born in Sexsmith, Alberta in 1943. Almost everyone in her farming community was poor in material wealth, but rich in love from family, neighbours and community. For her, northern Alberta was the best place in the world to grow up.
Paulette attended school in Sexsmith for a short time, where several grades were taught in the same classroom. Equipment was little more than a blackboard, paper, pencil and a book. Recreational opportunities for kids abounded, as long as they did everything themselves.
A pivotal moment in Paulette’s life came at the end of Grade 11. She entered a public speaking contest sponsored by the International Order of Odd Fellows and Rebekahs. The topic was to be on an aspect of the United Nations. Despite misgivings that her “so much smarter” best friend was taking part, Paulette heeded the urging of her classmates and decided to give it a try.
She spoke on UNICEF and won the contest. The prize was an all-expenses-paid month-long trip to New York City. Suddenly, she was crossing the continent to spend a week in New York seeing the sights. Paulette spent three weeks travelling by bus with 37 other young winners from Alberta, British Columbia and the bordering American states. It was an unforgettable, eye-opening learning experience that taught her never to pass up an opportunity in life.
In 1963, she married Wayne Patterson who was working for the City of Grande Prairie in the engineering department. Wayne was also a local jockey racing on weekends. Thus began the Pattersons’ involvement in raising, claiming and buying thoroughbred race horses throughout their married life.
Over her life, Paulette has held an amazing variety of jobs, often several at once. She has always been led by an interest in people, and her belief that if there is a need, you fill that need. When the youngest of their three children was in pre-school, Paulette went to work for Alberta Power. While she was there, one of her colleagues left to work for a real estate company. Two weeks later, the friend called Paulette and urged her to make the switch, saying she was made for the real estate business. Paulette was unsure, but decided to learn more, get her licence and begin her real estate career.
Paulette did very well: after two years she opened her own company, Spot Realty Ltd. Eventually she had nine salespeople, an office manager/bookkeeper and a receptionist. For a few years, Spot was the number one real estate company in Grande Prairie. Her interest and experience led her to become president of the Grande Prairie Real Estate Board, and finally to become the first female director of the Alberta Real Estate Association.
Another volunteer career came her way when Paulette became a director of Evergreen Park (formerly the Grande Prairie Regional Agricultural and Exhibition Society) then joined Wayne on the Grande Prairie Horse Racing Association. She took on the duties of public relations and fundraising for the association, which grew to include doing colour commentary and calling the horse races.
Other careers Paulette and Wayne took on over the years include cattle ranching and property development. Among numerous shorter term jobs, Paulette managed a seniors’ lodge after retiring from real estate. She particularly enjoyed working with seniors.
Paulette has also been a successful political campaign organizer. She served as campaign chairman for over 30 years for mayoralty and aldermanic candidates in Grande Prairie and was campaign chairman for the local MLA for three terms.
If the truest recognition of a good volunteer is the offer of more work, Paulette is the best there is. She has been in demand again and again, for every possible cause. But she is the first to say that much of her contribution has been in motivating and managing a team of volunteers. She believes that people are reluctant to recognize their own volunteerism abilities. Asking them to volunteer, recognizing their strengths, and handing them the reigns in their area of interest will ensure a successful experience for all.
Paulette's volunteer work has seen her coach high school basketball, judge 4-H public speaking competitions, raise funds for countless causes and even cook Christmas dinner for residents of a seniors’ lodge – to name just a few of her experiences. No matter the cause, Paulette feels that she gets as much from the community as she gives.
While she was serving as founding President of the Grande Prairie John Howard Society, Paulette became involved with Odyssey House, a group seeking to establish the first women's shelter in northern Alberta. One of Paulette’s favourite projects was a fundraiser for Odyssey House. Wayne had the unique idea of doing a one-day road toll on the newly finished highway bypass in Grande Prairie that his company had just completed. Paulette ran with the idea and the day was an astounding success, raising $40,000 for the shelter.
The list of boards and organizations Paulette has served on is a long one: from a commissioner with AADAC to director of a local Radio Advisory Board; from director of the Grande Prairie PACE crisis line to Victims’ Assistance; from serving as the past chair of the Grande Prairie Citizens’ Appeal Panel for various government ministries, to being a founding member of the Premier's Council in Support of Alberta Families (a group that was pivotal in bringing about Alberta's Family Day holiday).
She was also a founding member of the Alberta Wild Rose Foundation and Alberta Family Life & Drug Abuse Board; she served as a member of the Long Term Care Policy Advisory Committee, the Health Facilities Review Committee and the Lotteries Review Committee.
Paulette’s time is guided by her passions. When asked by her pastor to get involved in the building of the new St. Joseph Church, she readily agreed to help with fundraising and planning. She is very proud of the new church, with its magnificent stained glass and bell tower, and many other beautiful features, all paid for by parishioners. Most recently, Paulette led a successful fundraising campaign to move the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan Chancery, and the Archbishop’s home, from McLennan to Grande Prairie.
Paulette was honoured for her community building efforts with the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal in 1992 and the Stars of Alberta Award in 2006.
Paulette has made the quality of life of her community a personal priority. Throughout her life, Paulette has been guided by a belief that excellence means unselfishly sharing your time, talent and treasure for the benefit of others, never forgetting those along the way who have helped to make your endeavours a success. Hers has been a life of excellence.