Cooke had to return the Pulitzer two days later after admitting she had fabricated the story.
Patterson retired from the Times and Poynter in 1988.
‘‘There are several generations of journalists who are journalists because of him,’’ said Phillips, who was hired by Patterson in 1967 and worked with him at The Post. ‘‘A lot of people looked up to him and imagined themselves trying to be like him. It was a good standard.’’
A collection of Patterson’s Atlanta Constitution columns was published in book form in 2002 as ‘‘The Changing South of Gene Patterson: Journalism and Civil Rights, 1960-1968.’’
Patterson was born in 1923 in Georgia, the son of a schoolteacher and a bank cashier who later lost his job during the Great Depression. He grew up on a small farm, and recalled toiling ‘‘behind a plow drawn by two mules across 50 acres of isolation.’’ School, fishing and literature were his only means of escape.
Those experiences in the segregated South would help shape his later world view. Patterson ‘‘understood the intense feelings that segregationists had, the great fear they had, that their way of life was about to end,’’ said Hank Klibanoff director of the journalism program at Emory University and co-author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on press coverage of the civil rights movement. ‘‘But in the end (he) said that was not reason enough to resist.’’
Klibanoff said that when black churches were burned in southwestern Georgia in 1962, Patterson was ‘‘deeply disturbed’’ and wrote a column tweaking white people who claim to be religious but support segregation. He called on whites to raise money to rebuild the churches, spawning an effort that raised $10,000 and later prompted a visit by King.
‘‘When he sat down to write, that conviction came out. And it came out in just a very, very powerfully written way,’’ said Klibanoff, a former managing editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who received a note from Patterson days ago.
Patterson graduated from the University of Georgia in 1943, then served in the Army in Europe. His platoon was in the thick of fighting during the Battle of the Bulge, the final German offensive of World War II.
His first reporting job was at the Temple (Texas) Daily Telegram. He later went on to work for United Press in Atlanta, New York and London. It was there that he wrote one of his most famous leads, on a story about Ernest Hemingway being feared dead in an airplane crash in Uganda.
‘‘Ernest Hemingway came out of the jungle today carrying a bunch of bananas and a bottle of gin,’’ Patterson wrote.
Even in his last years, Patterson spent time editing and writing. One of his final projects was cutting 600,000 words from the King James Bible. He reasoned that the Bible is full of great stories that are hard to follow.
Clark wrote of that endeavor: ‘‘It turns out that even Moses needed an editor.’’
The Poynter Institute: http://www.poynter.org/