, Salem, MA

October 18, 2013

Our view: Cheers, jeers for local newsmakers

The Salem News

---- — CHEERS to Joanne Holbrook Patton and the Patton family, who for generations have given so much to their hometown of Hamilton, the North Shore and the country.

More than 400 people — friends, family and civic leaders — crowded into the Danversport Yacht Club Wednesday night to see the Pattons and their matriarch honored by the Essex National Heritage Commission with the 2013 Essex Heritage Hero Award.

“They are true heroes to those who care about this region and beyond,” said Annie Harris, the Heritage Commission’s executive director.

The Heritage Commission spent the better part of a page outlining the Pattons’ contribution to the region in the event program:

“Since arriving at Green Meadows Farm in South Hamilton in 1928, the Patton family has created a legacy of public service and preserving the natural and cultural resources of Essex County. In 1980, Green Meadows became the permanent home of Joanne Patton and her family when her husband, Major Gen. George S. Patton, retired from his military career, and she immediately immersed herself in community service. From the Red Cross to the North Shore Association for Volunteerism to Operation Troop Support, the list of nonprofit organizations that have benefited from Joanne Patton’s dedication is long and diverse. Upon her husband’s death in 2004, she became overseer of Green Meadows Farm, sustaining her husband’s agricultural legacy and providing educational programs to encourage futire generations to appreciate and preserve farming.”

The Patton family also recently donated its 27-acre property and 18th-century homestead to the town of Hamilton.

Wednesday night’s affair was a happy one, with the feel of a reunion, and speakers frequently had to speak over the chatter. The one moment when everyone fell silent and listened — you could hear the proverbial pin drop — was when Joanne Patton rose to speak to the crowd, surrounded by children and grandchildren.

“I am very, very proud to accept this on behalf of all the Patton generations,” she said. “The word heritage comes up strongest for me — it tells us there’s something that needs to be done, and we are on the spot to do it.”

Rest assured, if Joanne Patton is involved, it will get done.

JEERS to the addle-headed thinking of school officials at North Andover High School, who have managed to send precisely the wrong message about teen drinking and driving to the students in their charge.

While senior Erin Cox made an informed, intelligent decision to look after the welfare of a friend, the adults running the school system opted for the coward’s way out, falling back on a “policy” that insulates them from having to exercise critical judgment — or even use a smattering of common sense.

A few weeks ago, Cox received a telephone call from a friend at a party who was too drunk to drive. Rather than let someone risk driving drunk, Cox drove to the party to pick up her friend.

North Andover police, however, had also been summoned to the party, where they arrested several students for underage possession of alcohol.

Police cleared Cox of drinking or being in possession of alcohol, according to various reports. But school officials still punished the honor student and star volleyball player, and demoted Cox from her post as captain of the volleyball team, suspending her from playing for five games.

Yes, the school — like so many others in this area — has a strict policy against drugs and alcohol. According to the high school’s student handbook, those participating in athletics shall not “use, consume, possess, buy/sell, or give away any beverage containing alcohol.”

Yet it’s difficult to see from the story how Cox violated this policy.

This kind of “zero tolerance” thinking is a crutch used by school officials, who would rather not have to make the difficult decisions that usually come with positions of authority. But such decisions require actual good judgment. Rather than have to defend their judgments, how much easier it is to point at a handbook and declare “we have a policy.”

The Cox family has hired a lawyer but a district court judge already has ruled he has no jurisdiction in such matters.

Let’s just chalk up another major setback for common sense.