Robert E. Patterson, age 89, departed this world October 20, 2021 at his home in Lake City, Florida. He was born April 4, 1932 in Miami, Florida. He was preceded in death by his wife of 64 years, Nathetta, his parents John S. and Lydia Patterson, brothers John, Jr. and Gerald Patterson and sister Lydia Spears.
Robert is survived by his son Steve (Teri) Patterson, daughter JoNell (Robert) Modys, grandchildren Andy (Kim) Matthews, Steven (Danielle) Patterson, Niki Patterson, Miranda Modys, Rebecca Jones and Jessica (Ryan) Kays; great grandchildren Addison and Kiersten Matthews, Kit Darcy Patterson, Libby, Kate and Duncan Jones and Emma Rose Kays; brother-in-law Eugene McWherter; nieces Cynthia (Donald) Rehberg, Carolyn (Robert) Bass, Diane (Stanley) Kornegay, Jennifer Spears (Jeff) Verkon and Melanie (Philip) Broome; nephews David (Ruth) and Mark (Lisa) Patterson and Scott (April) Spears, and many other beloved family members.
Robert graduated from Miami Edison Senior High School, where he met the love of his life, Nathetta. He attended Florida State University then transferred to and graduated from the University of Florida, where he earned a BS in Business Administration and completed the ROTC program in 1954. That same year he and Nathetta married on June 19 and he accepted his appointment to the U.S. Air Force. Achieving the rank of Major, he served in the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command until his retirement in 1977.
Born the son of a World War I veteran, Robert began his military career in pilot training where he learned to fly everything available including the T-6, B-25, B-29, B-47 and then, the airplane that allowed the U.S. military to extend its power across the globe, the K-97 midair refueling tanker. He supported many cold war missions as a KC-97 pilot, refueling the bombers sent to patrol the Soviet border on a daily basis from the late 1950s to the early 1960s. As the Vietnam war escalated, he served as crew commander and piloted the new KC-135 jet refueling tankers.
During the Vietnam years he was sent to bases throughout Southeast Asia for regular rotations of six month temporary duty (TDY) missions, alternating with three month TDY missions.
Every bomber and fighter pilot that served in Vietnam will tell you their best friend in the air after being shot at with their wings full of holes was the KC-135 tanker crew that refueled them and kept them from going down in the jungle. As told to his family privately, he had to violate his ordered minimum altitude many times to go down and rescue damaged fighters such as the F-105s and the F-4s.
He supported B-52 bombing missions and in the final two years of service in Southeast Asia, he was assigned to serve on the elite dedicated refueling crew selected to support the new SR-71 high altitude strategic reconnaissance aircraft, otherwise known as a spy plane. The SR-71 still holds the record as the fastest airplane in the world.
During his 23-year U.S. Air Force career he moved his family to training centers and bases in Kinston, NC; Oklahoma City, OK; San Antonio, TX; Tampa, FL; Lake Charles, LA; Mount Clemons, MI; Atwater, CA; Albany, GA, Orlando, FL; Omaha, NE and Honolulu, HI.
After his military career he moved back to the home he and Nathetta built while stationed at McCoy Air Force Base in Orlando, where he became a private pilot and then a pilot for Air Florida and Braniff International Airways.
He remained in Orlando until 2015 when he moved near family in Lake City to help care for Nathetta, who suffered from the debilitating neurological disease PSP.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Haven Hospice of Lake City or CurePSP.
Graveside services will be held at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, Florida on Friday, November 12, 2021 at 12:30 P.M. with Military Honors.