By Bethany Bray
---- — The Essex National Heritage Commission awarded its 2013 Essex Heritage Hero Award to Joanne Holbrook Patton and the Patton family last night.
It was a fitting tribute to a family whose name is synonymous with the word “heritage.”
From their generations of military service to their involvement with numerous nonprofit and service organizations locally and across the globe, the Pattons were lauded for their generosity and commitment to others.
“They are true heroes to those who care about this region and beyond,” said Annie Harris, executive director of the Essex National Heritage Commission.
The more than 400 people who attended last night’s awards dinner, many of them in military uniform, were immediately on their feet, applauding as Joanne Patton took the stage to accept the award.
Joanne Patton, the widow of Maj. Gen. George Patton and daughter-in-law to the World War II general of the same name, called for her children and family to join her on stage.
The Essex National Heritage Commission and the Patton family share two qualities, she said: service and mission.
“I am very, very proud to accept this on behalf of all the Patton generations,” she said. “The word heritage comes up the strongest for me — it tells us there’s something that needs to be done, and we are on the spot to do it.
“... We commit to the heritage that will take us all to important results for the world. From all of the Pattons, thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Members of the extended Patton family were at last night’s award dinner, as well as Patton family friends and civic, business, military and nonprofit leaders from across the region.
The microphone was passed around as attendees made toasts, sharing Patton family anecdotes and thanking them for their devotion to military service, the disabled, veterans and numerous other causes. Several used military jargon, applauding Joanne Patton’s role as “chief of staff” of a remarkable family.
The Patton family recently donated their 27-acre property and 18th-century homestead on Asbury Street to the town of Hamilton.
While the Patton family had owned a home in Hamilton since 1928, Joanne and Maj. Gen. Patton did not settle there until 1980, when he retired from the Army.
Joanne Patton quickly immersed herself in volunteer work in her new hometown.
“Name a nonprofit on the North Shore and Joanne Patton has almost certainly played an important role,” Essex Heritage wrote in last night’s program.
Karen Andreas, publisher of North of Boston Media Group, which includes the Salem News, served as master of ceremonies at last night’s award dinner, held at the Danversport Yacht Club.
Andreas, who said she was a “cub reporter” just out of college when she first met Joanne Patton, used the words “kind, gracious, smart, tough and tenacious” to describe her.
“I just can’t say enough about Joanne,” said Nancy Palmer, chairwoman of the Northeast Hospital Corporation. “What an honor and privilege to get to know this family. What terrific role models. Who knows where they may end up.”
A display of Patton family artifacts was set up at last night’s dinner, including wartime letters exchanged between Gen. Patton and his son between 1942 and 1945 and the jacket Maj. Gen. Patton was wearing when he was wounded in Vietnam in 1968, earning him a Purple Heart.
The Essex National Heritage Commission, in conjunction with the National Park Service, presents the Essex Heritage Hero Award each year. Past winners include Wayne Burton, past president of North Shore Community College; Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll; Danvers Town Manager Wayne Marquis and Thomas Leonard, president emeritus of the Essex National Heritage Commission.
See www.essexheritage.org/heroes for biographies of Patton family members and full details on the award.
Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.