Jean E. Patterson, who served as an inspiration to all who knew her, died Sept. 26 of complications related to Down syndrome at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. She was 43.
"She profoundly touched her family and those who knew her, bringing gifts of love, innocence and the joy of simply being," said her mother, Lorna Patterson, a retired Baltimore County special-education teacher. "When she laughed, everyone laughed, whether they knew it or not."
"What Jean taught our congregation was being over doing," said the Rev. Richard T. Lawrence, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church. "She always had a smile on her face, and even though she couldn't put anything into words, she taught us love which meant that words were superfluous."
Also the daughter of the late Webster T. Patterson, who had been professor of theology at Loyola University Maryland, Jean Elizabeth "Jeannie" Patterson was born in Baltimore and raised in the Glendale neighborhood of Baltimore County.
"When Jeannie was born, it took adjustments. Everyone wants their children to be perfect, and after a while, you stopped thinking of her being a Down syndrome child. After that, she was just my daughter," said Mrs. Patterson. "We always felt very strongly about that, and she defined herself in other ways."
From 1974 until 1996, she attended the old Ridge Ruxton School on West Joppa Road and later at its present location on Charles Street.
According to her mother, Miss Patterson was not high-functioning. She spoke only in single words and was unable to speak in a complete sentence.
"But she had the ability to touch people very deeply, and they felt her joy of being alive, her humor and saw her smile," her mother said.
"She loved to laugh out loud and had no inhibitions. She couldn't build walls around herself as we do. She didn't know how to do that," said Mrs. Patterson.
When she was 21, she moved to Francis X. Gallagher Services and lived at several group homes in Baltimore and Baltimore County, before moving last year to a residential facility on Pot Spring Road in Timonium that is operated by the organization.
"One of the many reasons why Jean went to Gallagher as early as 22 was that we, her parents, wanted to be active in her life, bring her home and take her on vacations," said her mother. "We also wanted to use our time and energies to be involved in Gallagher activities before we were too old."
"Things don't always end the way you want them to end, and the Patterson family supported Jeannie all of her life," said Mark Schulz, director of Gallagher Services, which provides residential and day support for people who have developmental disabilities.
"She was with me for 19 years and was a small tyke. She was a very special and delightful person who was always smiling," said Fronzie Q. Williams, who is director of residential services. "We also work with parents and families, and Jean looked forward to going home on weekends, getting her hair done, going on vacations and to church."
"Jeannie changed our lives for the better without ever uttering a word. I was a high school teacher and went back to Loyola, where I got a master's in special education," said Mrs. Patterson.
Mrs. Patterson said her daughter was "more auditory stimulated than visual."
"Music was her life. She had a small beach scoop that she used as a baton," she said.
She also looked forward to attending weekly Mass at St. Vincent de Paul with her mother.
"Some people argue that people who don't understand transubstantiation should not be given Communion. Jean knew the distinction between bread and the Host, and when I would give it to her, she'd look up and say, 'God,' " said Father Lawrence.
"We watched her decline and were not surprised when she reached that point. She had to be helped into her wheelchair and [have] her food pureed," said Mrs. Patterson, who said her daughter began suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
"I was there, as well as my son and daughter-in-law, when she died," said Mrs. Patterson. "Jeannie was a gift — a very special gift — and others sensed that, too."
A Mass of Resurrection will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday at her church, 120 Front St., Baltimore.
In addition to her mother, Miss Patterson is survived by her brother, Thomas M. Patterson of Severna Park; and two nieces.
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