Former Commissioner Patterson remembered for her dedication to public service

Memorial service details yet to be announced

Photo from the website of the Robert Toale and Sons Funeral Home at Palms Memorial Park

On Nov. 8, 2022, former County Commissioner Nora Patterson stood before a gathering of county residents and local government leaders to mark the formal debut of the new, nearly million-dollar restroom structure in a park named in her honor, just west of the Siesta Drive drawbridge.

Officially, the group was on Bay Island, though visitors and newcomers refer to that area as part of Siesta Key.

In May 2015, county leaders had renamed the park in recognition of Patterson’s long tenure on the County Commission and her love of the water. The resulting signage designated the property, which is popular for fishing and picnicking — not to mention its views of the Intracoastal Waterway — the Nora Patterson Bay Island Park.

Patterson thanked those who had assembled that day in 2022, pointing out that not all of them were Siesta Key residents. She also noted that Nov. 8 was Election Day, expressing her appreciation to “the many voters and taxpayers who support great parks and public places.” Without them, she continued, “This park and others wouldn’t even be possible.”

To the knowledge of The Sarasota News Leader, that was Patterson’s last public appearance.

Late in the afternoon of Feb. 8, Sarasota County staff announced her passing. She was 79.

That news prompted an outpouring of appreciation for all that Patterson had done during almost two decades of service in local government, on the Sarasota City Commission and then on the County Commission.

In 1991, Patterson won her first of two terms on the City Commission; she also had a year-long stint as mayor of Sarasota.

Then, in 1998, she joined the County Commission. In fact, in 2002, when she sought her second term, she faced no opposition, the Sarasota Herald-Tribunereported at that time. It was not until 2010 that she was challenged for the seat. Mark Smith, a long-time Siesta Key architect and a leader of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, lost to her in the August Primary that year, with Patterson taking 55.83% of the votes, as shown in the records maintained by the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections.

During a telephone interview this week, Smith told the News Leader that Patterson and her husband, John, called him to say that they would support his 2022 campaign for a County Commission seat, though revisions of the districts in recent years put him in District 2. Patterson represented the former District 4.

Patterson’s obituary points out that, as part of her “service on the Sarasota County Commission, she represented the county on the [Sarasota/Manatee] Metropolitan Planning Organization [], the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, the West Coast Inland Navigational District, and the Peace River [Manasota Regional Water] Authority. She was also active in the Florida Association of Counties,” it adds.

Additionally, the obituary notes, she held leadership positions while serving on the boards of Planned Parenthood of Southwest Florida, Sarasota United Way, Plymouth Harbor, the Glasser Schoenbaum Center, Sarasota County Teen Court, Jewish Family and Children’s Service, and Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast.”

Moreover, it points out, “She narrowly lost the Republican primary election for the Florida State Senate in 2016.”

Term limits that went into effect in 2012 forced Patterson to step down from the County Commission in 2014. She had served three times as chair during the 16 years she represented District 4.

A former teacher, small business owner and Realtor, Patterson was a New York City native who graduated from The Brearley School and then Duke University, where she met her future husband, John, and where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology. She later earned a Master of Education from the University of Florida, focusing on educational psychology, the county news release added.

She and her husband, an attorney, moved to Sarasota County in 1970, the release said. They had married in 1966, after Nora’s graduation from Duke.

Nora and her business partner, Jane Walden Miller, purchased Greenwood Garden Center on Osprey Avenue in Sarasota after the birth of the Pattersons’ daughter Kimberly, her obituary adds. Nora Patterson and Miller “operated the business successfully until 1979, when the business was sold but the real estate retained. She then taught school at Out of Door Academy and entered the real estate profession as a broker salesperson. She also continued as an investor, and was active in community affairs,” the obituary says.

Kimberly Patterson died of leukemia in 2000, the obituary adds.

“In lieu of flowers,” the obituary continues, “donations may be sent to Kim’s Fund at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, P.O. Box 4486, Houston, TX 77210-4486 ( or Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, PO Box 902, Osprey, Florida 34229 (

The obituary says that memorial services will be announced at a later date.

Robert Toale and Sons Funeral Home at Palms Memorial Park is handling the arrangements.

‘This is a true loss for our community’

In announcing Nora Patterson’s death, the county news release noted that it was “with heavy hearts” that the staff did so.

Then-Commissioner Christine Robinson looks at an image on the overhead projector during a budget workshop. File photo

Former County Commissioner Christine Robinson of Venice told the News Leader this week that Patterson “made every other commissioner better because we knew she was going to be prepared for meetings.”

In the days when she and Patterson were on the board, Robinson pointed out, it was common to receive 1,000 or more pages of agenda materials from staff on the Friday before a regular meeting the following Tuesday. “And Nora read every damn page,” Robinson added with a laugh.

In going through the materials herself, Robinson said, she would consider potential questions that Patterson might pose about the various items, and those questions were detailed.

“She was so smart, and she cared a lot about the county, and very much about Siesta Key,” Robinson pointed out. “I just had a tremendous amount of respect for her. I know she upped my game 100%. … She set the tone for the entire board.”

Speaking of Patterson’s passing, Robinson added, “This is a true loss for our community. … [Patterson was] a legend who made Sarasota County better.”

During his interview with the News Leader, Commissioner Smith alluded to Patterson’s fiscal conservativism. That was the basis for her frustrations as the expense of the renovations and new construction at Siesta Key Beach Park seemed to rise, he indicated.

Patterson wanted to see the project completed, Smith told the News Leader, but she also wanted to try to find a way to rein in the cost.

During a discussion at a meeting of what is known as the Presidents Council on Siesta Key — the group of leaders of various business and residential organizations — Smith said she expressed her concern about how the plans were going over the budget that the commission had set. He was on the council at that time as president of a business group called the Siesta Key Village Association, Smith added.

As he is an architect, he continued, he volunteered to look into the issues, as he wanted to see the project succeed. “We were the No. 1 Beach in spite of the facilities,” he noted.

After meeting with the architect and representatives of the Kimley-Horn consulting team in Sarasota, Smith said, he was able to help resolve the problems with the escalating expense.

Patterson, Smith pointed out, “was instrumental in making that [project] happen.”

The grand opening of the new beach park was held on Feb. 20, 2016. The total expense of the initiative was $21.5 million.

The Siesta Public Beach Park long has been one of the county’s top tourist attractions. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Several years later, during a Siesta Key Association meeting, Patterson pointed out that she was an advocate on the commission for continuing to allow the public to park for free at the park. In 2008, she was part of a board majority that refused to approve fees for parking at the facility.

Patterson’s fiscal conservatism did not hinder her efforts to serve her constituents, however.
In 2013, Patterson and her board colleague Robinson led the charge, so to speak, for allocating an extra $10 million per year to road repaving in the county.

Then-County Engineer James K. Harriott Jr. had explained to the board members during budget discussions that it would take approximately that much more money each year to keep no more than 40% of the county’s roads from falling below a rating of 60. When a road drops below that level, Harriott explained, the commissioners and staff begin to hear complaints from drivers.

The proposed county Capital Improvement Program called for the county to spend only about $4.5 million per year on road resurfacing for FY 2014-18.

“My feeling is we need to [increase the funding], however we figure it out,” Patterson said during a workshop. “To let things get worse is not a very good investment for the future.”

Then-Commissioner Joe Barbetta proposed increasing the funding by $5 million a year. Yet, after seconding his motion to that effect, Patterson said, “I would actually do more.” She proposed an amendment calling for an allocation of an extra $7 million for FY 2014 through FY 2018.

Robinson seconded that motion, but told her colleagues that she would increase the amount to $10 million.

Patterson agreed to that suggestion as a substitute motion. “If you’ve ever gone to a city that hasn’t kept up with its road repaving, the message is loud and clear: This community is not doing well,” Patterson pointed out.

Then-Commissioner Carolyn Mason joined Patterson and Robinson in a majority vote for the additional $10 million.

Late that same year, Patterson was the only member of the board who voted to keep then-County Administrator Randall Reid in his job, after controversy had arisen over Reid’s handling of a staffing situation and other issues, and commissioners said they felt he was not communicating well enough with them in general.

“I’m sad,” Patterson told reporters after the meeting, when the other board members voted to fire Reid. Nonetheless, she said the county needed to move forward.

It was Patterson who ended up proposing that then-Deputy County Administrator Tom Harmer serve as interim county administrator.

In an October 2013 email to a constituent after Reid’s dismissal, Patterson wrote, “My own thought would be NOT to do a search [for a replacement for Reid] but instead let Tom Harmer have a chance.” She added, “He is already working well with the business and development community and is very well thought of by everyone I speak to.”

Harmer did end up winning full commission support to succeed Reid; he remained county administrator until December 2017.

Tributes to Patterson

The News Leader reached out to other individuals who had known Patterson for many years to ask for their reflections on her. Those comments follow:

  • Lourdes Ramirez of Siesta Key — “I am sorry to hear about the passing of County Commissioner Nora Patterson. As the previous president of SKA [the Siesta Key Association], I had the pleasure of meeting with her every month over coffee to discuss issues related to Siesta Key. Despite her passion for the island, Nora never discussed quasi-judicial matters during our conversations. She was devoted to addressing all concerns related to Siesta Key, from noise to roads, and I admired her meticulous attention to detail. At county commission meetings, she would show up with a packet containing hundreds of pages, covered in sticky notes. She would carefully go over each page to ensure she was well-informed on every detail. Nora’s love for Siesta Key was evident, but she cared deeply about the entire county. She stood up for what was right, even if it wasn’t popular. Her intelligence, experience, and kindness were always on display. In my opinion, she was one of the few people deserving of having a park named after her. I have many fond memories of Nora, and she will be dearly missed.”

Patterson continued to attend SKA meetings for a number of years after she left the County Commission.

  • Karen Rushing, clerk of the Circuit Court and county comptroller — “During Nora Patterson’s time as a County Commissioner, she was the consummate professional. She did her homework by studying the issues, communicating with her constituents and deliberating conscientiously. Her legacy lives on through her decades of public service, and she will be missed.”
  • Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates — “I’ve have always admired Nora Patterson. During her service on the City Commission and, most especially, on the County Commission, she exemplified what you would want in a leader. She was always prepared, thoughtful in any question she asked, and informed on any decision she made. Our community is a better place because of her dedicated service. She will be missed!”

Several persons left comments about Patterson on the county’s Facebook page, in response to the news of her passing. Among those, Virginia Haley, the long-time leader of the county’s tourism office, Visit Sarasota County, who retired last year, wrote, “I cannot put into words what Nora meant to our community and to me personally.”

Patterson chaired the county’s Tourist Development Council for a number of years, in which capacity she was a strong advocate of the work of Visit Sarasota County.

In fact, in the spring of 2014, Patterson cast the only “No” vote when her commission colleagues decided to shift a portion of the annual Tourist Development Tax revenue to a fund for the development of new attractions.

Virginia Haley addresses the Tourist Development Council members during a meeting. File image

Haley had reported during the June 19, 2014 Tourist Development Council meeting that the Visit Sarasota County board members reluctantly had agreed to support a reallocation of 7.5% of the funds generated by one penny of the Tourist Development Tax — which then was a 5% surcharge on the rentals of accommodations for six months or less time.

With initial County Commission discussions having focused on the potential shift of up to 17.5% of the promotional money, Patterson said during the commission meeting when the vote was taken, “I’m sort of torn on this because I think it’s a reasonable compromise.” Nonetheless, she continued, “I think it’s sort of a slippery slope, which is kind of illustrated by everybody saying it’s a start.”

She reminded her colleagues that when the commission approved a hike in the Tourist Development Tax from 4.5 cents to 5 cents, which went into effect on May 1, 2011, the board members emphasized that that meant more money would be going toward marketing the county.

“The way I really feel is we probably shouldn’t [shift any of the promotional funds],” she added, “and I’m going to vote to my heart.”

In a memorial on the Robert Toale and Sons Funeral Home at Palms Memorial Park webpages regarding Patterson, Devin Rutkowski, who identified himself as a friend, wrote, “City Commissioner Patterson embraced me and my young family way back in 1989 when we moved into what is now called Laurel Park. She was keenly aware of our struggling community’s needs and was always available to speak with, give direction and support our ideas. Her calm, deliberate and incisive questioning during her years on our city and county commissions was refreshing and never adversarial. I recall when she would ask the petitioner a specific question about an issue and more often than not, she would bring to the table both problems and most importantly solutions. I proudly stood on a corner waving her re-election sign. Her integrity, leadership and compassion for her fellow neighbors and citizens will be sorely missed.”