World changer, organizer, friend. Born Nov. 10, 1943, in Toronto, died Sept. 1, 2012, in Cobourg, Ont., of ovarian cancer, aged 68.
In the 1980s, Cesar Chavez visited the Manitoba legislature. The Premier and ministers were gathered in the lobby, waiting to greet the founder of the United Farm Workers. Chavez came in, saw Patty Park on the side and hurried over to give her a big hug. Then he went to meet the Premier.
Patty, special assistant to a minister, had worked for the UFW in California and Michigan in the early 1970s. Chavez, like everyone who worked with Patty, recognized her outstanding political abilities.
Some of it was likely genetic. Her mother, Anne, was a social worker. Her father, Eamon, worked with the United Steelworkers. Both were active in the CCF and the NDP. Eamon was MPP for Dovercourt from 1948 to 1951. Patty became an advocate and organizer.
Patty worked for human rights groups, farm workers, prisoners’ rights groups, the NDP and the governments of Manitoba and Ontario. The job she held longest was her final one, executive director of Three Oaks, a Belleville women’s shelter.
Patty saw the big picture – how things should be. She also saw all the small steps it would take to get there. By persuading people and holding them accountable, she made sure all the steps got done.
She applied this approach to every project, whether it was organizing 280,000 signatures for a petition to save medicare or arranging play dates with step-grandsons. And she never stopped thinking. She used to phone staff at the women’s shelter to discuss an idea late at night from a cornfield where she was walking her dog.
Despite her petite stature, Patty was able to hold her own in any argument and stare down bullies. She rarely used profanity despite an impressive vocabulary. She argued effectively, based on fact, and without making it personal. Patty did listen to the other side and even changed her mind occasionally. Rumour has it, though, that when she was stickhandling issues involved in building a huge dam, one Manitoba bureaucrat tore his phone out of the wall to avoid her calls.
Patty liked baking, parties and sports. She played hockey and was a Miss Toronto Cheerleader in high school. Her competitive nature continued to show up when she was running, sailing or managing election campaigns. On New Year’s Eve, 2010, the 25th anniversary of her marriage to Murray Weppler and 10 weeks before her diagnosis, she completed a six-kilometre run in New York’s Central Park.
Patty was truly curious and interested in people. A good mentor and friend, she made sure staff had opportunities to develop new skills. Patty never forgot to send a thank-you note, and she liked to surprise friends with small, thoughtful gifts. Throughout her life, Patty lived by her principles. At the end, she gave her body to a medical school.