She always stood up for Siesta

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Nora Patterson championed many causes for our island, but her reach went so much further

By Jane Bartnett

Nora Patterson, the former Sarasota County commissioner and longtime Siesta Key resident, died Feb. 8 at age 79. She was widely known as a “champion of Siesta.”

Nora Patterson

Patterson began her career as a teacher in Florida public schools. When she and her husband, John Patterson, moved to Siesta Key in 1970 she taught at the Out-of-Door Academy, owned the Greenwood Garden Center on Osprey Avenue, and began a career in real estate and investments. She also began dedicating much of her time to Siesta Key, Sarasota County, the environment, the business community, and tourism.
Serving the public became Patterson’s driving force. Elected to the Sarasota City Commission in 1991, she also served as mayor. In 1998, Patterson was elected to the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners and served four terms. In 2003, the Siesta Key Association civic group named her its Person of the Year.

In 2014, Patterson announced that she would not seek a fifth term as commissioner. Two years later, she ran as a candidate in the Florida State Senate District 23 Republican primary but lost her bid to Greg Steube.
During the years that Patterson served as a county commissioner, Siesta Key and the entire Sarasota region struggled through the real estate depression of 2008. She won praise for her efforts to cut property taxes while supporting the area’s infrastructure. A strong advocate for a new Gulf Gate Library, whose fate had been debated, funded and defunded since 2004, Patterson was able to see the completion of the new library that opened its doors in January 2015.
During a 2014 interview with the Siesta Sand, Patterson spoke of her love for Siesta Key and the decision that she and her husband made to make it their home. “We fell in love with the place and, when we moved here, we moved onto the Key and never moved off,” she said.
In 2015, to recognize her long commitment to the region’s environment and the waterfront, Sarasota County renamed the Bay Island Park, situated near the north bridge that links the mainland to Siesta Key, the Nora Patterson Bay Island Park. Since then, significant improvements have been made to the park. It is a popular spot for boaters, fishermen and those who enjoy strolling along its waterfront.
Siesta Key resident Lourdes Ramirez, a longtime advocate for the island, remembered Nora Patterson fondly.
“She was an excellent county commissioner in Sarasota,” Ramirez wrote of Patterson on the Dignity Memorial website. “Her attention to detail was always visible during commission meetings. She was fair and kind in her dealings with others and deserves recognition for her efforts in protecting Siesta Key for many years.”

Nora Patterson speaking in November 2022 at the county park that bears her name. (photo courtesy of Sarasota County)

Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said that Patterson’s “dedication and service will continue to shine throughout Sarasota County because of the relationships that were formed throughout her decades of public service.”
Born to a celebrated theatrical scenic and Broadway lighting designer, Patterson – with the birth name Leonora “Nora” Kerz — was raised in New York City. The young Nora studied at the exclusive Brearley School, a private school for girls located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. She went on to graduate from Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina where she met her husband. The young couple moved to Gainesville where he attended law school, and she received a Master of Education degree from the University of Florida.

In 2000, the Pattersons’ daughter Kimberly, a 29-year-old artist, died of complications from leukemia. The family established Kim’s Fund, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Sarasota to support leukemia research. It also provides financial assistance for leukemia patients in need who are being treated at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, where Kimberly was treated.
During her many years of service to the community, Patterson represented Sarasota County on many public boards including the prominent Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization – the maintenance of the Intracoastal Waterway that passes through Siesta Key is one of the its focuses.
Patterson also served on the boards of numerous non-profit organizations including the Teen Court of Sarasota, the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of the Suncoast, and Plymouth Harbor.
In Patterson’s last Siesta Sand interview, when asked what advice she would give incoming county commissioners representing Siesta Key, she said: “Please keep sight of the fact that while Siesta Key is an important economic asset, it’s also a place where people live and enjoy a wonderful quality of life. Please pay attention to that and go to the meetings of the various stakeholders, the people that live on the Key as well as the people who work on the Key and let them get to know you. Let them get to feel comfortable to sharing their issues and thoughts with you.”

Jane Bartnett
Author: Jane Bartnett

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