Deval Patrick in A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick

On Principles & Values: My life is often described as "improbable"

My life is often described as "improbable." Because I grew up in a broken home and in poverty, my academic career at Harvard College and Harvard Law School is sometimes called "improbable." My legal career, which included winning an argument before the US Supreme Court and suing an Arkansas governor named Bill Clinton, who later appointed me assistant attorney general for civil rights, is called "improbable." My corporate career, which included service as a senior executive at two of the most highly recognized companies in America, Texaco and Coca-Cola, is called "improbable." My political career is described variously as "improbable" or "impossible": In my first race for elective office, lacking name recognition, connections, and money, I became the first African-American governor in the history of MA.

Of course, I acknowledge the unlikelihood of my good fortune. I also recognize the hard work and discipline that have made it possible.

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p. 3 Apr 12, 2011

On Principles & Values: Father left family when Deval was age four

My father, Pat, was a jazz musician, and he seemed to have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude about their relationship. It would be on his terms, period. His greatest and first love was music. My mother, Emily, appears to have felt chronically misunderstood and responded favorably to his insights about her. An ardent romance it wasn't.

But they tied the knot, and soon afterward, in August 1955, my sister, Rhonda, was born. I followed a short 11 months later, in July 1956.

Any sense I had of contented family life came to a jarring end when my father decided to leave and move to NY when I was 4. My mother, who had dropped out of high school to pursue him, hoped he would return, a hope she nourished by sending him letters regularly.

My father sent some money once or twice a year.

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p. 9-10 Apr 12, 2011

On Principles & Values: Born in grandmother's bed, with no doctor

I was born in my grandmother's bed. There was no doctor. According to family legend, after Uncle Sonny cut and tied off the umbilical cord, Grandma wrapped me in a blanket and placed me in the warm oven with the door open until the doctor arrived.

My mother and sister and I occupied a smaller bedroom across from the one bathroom. It was furnished with bunk beds that took up most of the space. For a time we could double up, but eventually we had to rotate so that one of us would sleep on the floor. Whoever's turn it was for "floor night" followed a ritual: you would lay down newspapers, then a thin blanket, then a sheet, then a threadbare cover. The room's one window opened onto an air shaft and the neighbors' window 15 feet across.

We didn't know to complain. We were better off than many.

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p. 12-13 Apr 12, 2011

On Principles & Values: Bullied at school as "high yellow": not black enough

The gangs made those walks to school treacherous. I was routinely "jumped," my lunch money or school supplies stolen, mostly because I was a "good" kid. I was also at risk for not being black enough, a mark of authenticity conferred on those with the darkest skin.

Color consciousness among black people is an ancient issue, but after Dr. King's death, the militancy in some black circles only intensified the intolerance toward African Americans who were comparatively fair. I was meek, bookish, bashful, and, in some people's view, "high yellow"--thus an easy mark. It only added to the uncomfortable self-consciousness that I carried around anyway. I just wanted to be in step and left alone. Surely there was some place where skin color was not the center of everything.

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p. 29 Apr 12, 2011

On Principles & Values: Circumstances, however difficult, need not be permanent

I am hardly the only product of Chicago's South Side to have gone on to better things or the only kid from a hardscrabble background to have had a measure of success. That "rags to riches" story is distinctly American, and though it is not told often enough, it is still told more often in this country than anywhere else on earth. In my own case, I knew that my circumstances, however difficult, need not be permanent; I could shape my own destiny. That was the true gift of my childhood. The POWER of that gift is that I was surrounded by adults who had every reason to curb my dreams.

My grandparents had grown up with Jim Crow. My mother knew all too well the humiliation of poverty and betrayal. Yet in different ways, they taught me to reject the cycle of despair that had trapped so many others and to pursue opportunities that I could barely imagine.

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p. 32-33 Apr 12, 2011

On Civil Rights: 1970s: Routinely stopped by police, on foot in Milton MA

In Milton in the 1970s, if I walked through town, I would almost invariably be stopped by the police and asked for identification. It was humiliating to have to explain that I was just walking to a friend's house or to the convenience store and was not the thief they presumed I was, casing the neighborhood. It helped a little when the school issued identification cards.

Once a cruiser pulled up behind another student and me when we were strolling on Randolph Avenue and put on his blue lights. I took unnatural pride in displaying my card, showing I was in fact a resident. After many months of this ritual, however, my pride turned to resentment at having to show identification at all. A young, gruff officer with sunglasses swaggered over to us, asking what business we had in the neighborhood. "We're just walking up to the Curtiss Compact," I said. When he asked for identification,

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p. 47-48 Apr 12, 2011

On Principles & Values: Learned "WASP Code" at Milton Academy

The more time I spent at Milton--at tea parties after football games, at alumni council gatherings--the more comfortable I became. I was never popular or much of an athlete. I was just a good citizen, a patient listener, and a sharp observer. I figured out the blue blazer & the rep tie, the difference between the old money destinations & the new. Though I had never actually been to most of these places or even owned a rep tie, I had broken the code. I could out-WASP the WASPs. I could even use "summer" as a verb.

As I learned the code, people grew more comfortable with me. They opened up and allowed me to see how universal the human condition really is. Despite their venerable names and magnificent homes, the men and women of privilege bore struggles hardly different from those I had seen at home.

Though I was largely accepted at Milton, true assimilation was not possible. It was as if I was encouraged to forget my past and embrace a community that would not actually let me surrender that past.

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p. 52-53 Apr 12, 2011

On Foreign Policy: 1978: Rockefeller fellow on UN Development Program in Sudan

The Michael Clark Rockefeller Traveling Fellowship was established to enable an individual to spend a year in a distinctly non-Western culture. I chose Sudan. All I knew was that Sudan was the largest country in Africa as well as the poorest.

As a Rockefeller fellow, I was responsible for creating much of my own program, and that meant finding an employer. I wrote to everyone I knew with a contact in Africa, specifically in Sudan. Relief agencies, banks, universities, volunteer organizations--you name it. I sent scores of letters and received one reply. A man who worked for a UN Development Programme project in Khartoum wrote a friendly letter saying that he was not sure what I would do when I got there, but he would figure it out and I should come. I set about applying for my 1st passport.

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p. 61-63 Apr 12, 2011

On Principles & Values: Learned Arabic while crossing the Sudanese desert

Our destination [on UN Development Programme in Sudan in 1978] was El Fasher, but getting there was not simple. Each lorry [cargo truck crossing the desert] sold passage on top of its cargo.

Outside Khartoum, a freak rainstorm hit. Everything turned to mud. We went into a skid, and the top-heavy vehicle rolled over with a thud. Everybody was shaken up. A few passengers had broken bones. We were alone in the desert with our calamity. And we would remain so (mostly) for three days.

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p. 74-82 Apr 12, 2011

On Welfare & Poverty: Saw severe poverty in 1970s West Africa

I traveled to Cameroon in West Africa, and then hitchhiked from there across Nigeria, spending the night in the home of people I met along the way. I trekked through large cities and tiny villages, verdant bush and dusty desert. Benin, Togo, Ghana, Mali, Niger were each so different--each with points of great pride, each with its own aspirations & grudges.

I had never seen such poverty. It made my own experience growing up in Chicago seem small & insignificant. Most people lived in rudimentary shelters Everything was put to use. Every part of every animal, every part of every crop. And everything was shared. The generosity of material and spirit humbled me and changed me. I surrendered to it.

Even before my year in West Africa was over, I had stood in places that I could have never conjured on my own, and I had received what I had come for: a deeper understanding of how broken, impoverished, or otherwise challenging surroundings could not defeat the resourcefulness and generosity of people.

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p. 83-84 Apr 12, 2011

On Principles & Values: Grace and generosity feel contrarian in today's culture

Even before my fellowship year in West Africa was over, I knew I had received what I had come for: a deeper understanding of how broken or impoverished surroundings could not defeat the resourcefulness and generosity of people. I also received a daily lesson in compassion, a reminder of the transformative power of grace across all cultures, a template for how to treat those who speak, dress, or pray differently than I.

Those lessons have served me well in the increasingly rich gumbo that is America. In the years since, I have tried to bring those lessons into my practical life, rather than keeping them as just travel souvenirs. It is surprising how contrarian they feel in today's culture. In our age of high-decibel hate-mongering and attack ads gone viral, grace and generosity are sometimes viewed as quaint relics from a lost era. But that special giving of the spirit, which I first witnessed growing up and which was then so vividly reinforced in remote villages in Africa, sustains us all.

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p. 84-85 Apr 12, 2011

On Principles & Values: Met wife, at Halloween party, while dressed as Masai warrior

A delightful old soul named Robert Hubbell invited me to a Halloween party and insisted that I dress in costume. I reluctantly agreed.

I wore a full-length caftan from Nigeria and no shoes, smeared war paint across my face, and carried a Masai spear. I thought I looked pretty good until I walked into the party and realized that I was the only one in costume. The joke was on me. Little did I know that the surprises were just beginning.

The entire party was an elaborate scheme for me to meet Diane--to engineer a chance encounter--and I was the only one out of the loop. Diane knew why she was there and had been told all about me. I, on the other hand, dressed as a mock African warrior, was blissfully ignorant.

The light finally dawned during the pumpkin carving contest, when Diane and I were paired. The prize was a single bottle of champagne. We won, of course, but the contest was shamelessly rigged. [We got engaged after dating a while.]

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p. 89-90 Apr 12, 2011

On Civil Rights: Daughter Katherine came out as lesbian at age 19

The summer after her 19th birthday, [our daughter] Katherine kept asking Diane and me when we would all be in the same place so that she could tell us something important. We were spending a weekend together at our home in western MA, preparing a picnic lunch, when she came into the kitchen and told us she was a lesbian. We both hugged her, told her we were there for her no matter what, and asked her to grab the mustard jar so we could get the picnic going.

That was all she or we needed right then. The time for the endless questions would come in due course.

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p.106 Apr 12, 2011

On Principles & Values: Father & grandfather were accomplished jazz musicians

My father--Laurdine Kenneth Patrick--had an unusual first name. He passed "Laurdine" on to me as my middle name.

My father inherited more than his first name from his father. Both were accomplished professional musicians. Grandpa Pat was a superb professional trumpeter who performed with and was close to Art Tatum, the great jazz pianist. Even so, my father had the real gift.

As a student at DuSable High School in Chicago in the 1940s, he studied saxophone and other reeds with the legendary instructor Walter Dyett. He was best known for baritone saxophone, for which he was routinely ranked in "Downbeat Magazine." Over the years, I saw him perform every other saxophone and reed instrument, most wind instruments, the keyboard, and the bass as well--all with ease and confidence. An intense man with great powers of concentration, he was his most engaged, his most emotionally present, when riffing a jazz set.

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p.116-118 Apr 12, 2011

On Principles & Values: Faith is less about what you say & more about how you live

My mother did not care much for church. But my grandmother was a child of the South, and for her church on Sunday was a must. The Cosmopolitan Community Church was just a block away.

I have so many blessings in my own life, so many improbable gifts, that I am long past questioning whether there is an invisible hand at work in my life. To me, God is real, but my years at Cosmopolitan, and the experience of those old ladies in hats, emphasized that faith is less about what you say you believe and more about how you live. I came to see those old ladies as embodiments of the faith we were taught. They showed me how to welcome and embrace all the people who walked into our church and into our lives, from whatever station. They meant "embrace" literally--a hug, a tactile expression of oneness and support.

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p.144-147 Apr 12, 2011

On Welfare & Poverty: As law student, won Legal Aid landlord-tenant cases

At the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, law students could handle civil cases for clients who couldn't afford lawyers. In one early case, I represented a poor Haitian family. They were behind on their rent & about to be evicted. They were confused & vulnerable, and they needed help.

The case then went to trial, which was unheard of in a landlord-tenant dispute. I argued that in MA, you can withhold your rent if the conditions of tenancy have been violated. I showed how the faulty appliances, sporadic utility service, and general unresponsiveness of the landlord were chronic and justified my clients' withholding the rent. We won, and the judge grudgingly ordered the largest payment to a tenant in the history of that court at the time. My clients never collected, but they remained in their home & stabilized their lives. I will never forget the look of relief on their faces and the pride they felt in a system that would vindicate those who were most vulnerable. That, I felt, was why I was in law school.

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p.149-151 Apr 12, 2011

On Crime: As NAACP lawyer, freed wrongly convicted death row inmate

I joined the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. [In one case], the defendant had been convicted of 1st-degree murder, had lost all of his appeals, and was within days of electrocution.

The judge opened the hearing by asking me directly, "Now then, Mr. Patrick, don't you just think there are some people who ought to die?"

"Well, Your Honor, we all will someday," I said. "But this proceeding is about whether his trial was fair."

The judge granted a stay. Our client was within hours of the death chamber by then, having had his last meal and his head shaved (which avoids the unpleasant odor of burning hair at electrocution). In the prosecutor's files, we found a sworn statement from an eyewitness positively identifying another man as the killer. Either it had been withheld from the court-appointed defense counsel or it had been disclosed and never used. Either way, my client's constitutional rights had been violated. His conviction and sentence were vacated, and he was granted a new trial.

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p.151-153 Apr 12, 2011

On Jobs: At Coca Cola: transform employment practices and policies

When I became a corporate executive, I tried to maintain a personal pledge to do good. Not long after I left the Justice Department, private attorneys settled a closely-watched employment discrimination case at Texaco. The settlement required a set of actions that would transform the company's employment policies and practices. I was asked to chair the task force and did so for two years.

I moved to Coca Cola in a similar capacity in the wake of a similar employment discrimination class-action lawsuit. I worked to resolve serious charges of worker mistreatment at a bottling plant in Colombia and to investigate a whistleblower scandal that ensnared a good, mild-mannered man who was trying to do the right thing.

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p.161-162 Apr 12, 2011

On Energy & Oil: At Texaco: stop arguing about climate change & seek solution

I'd like to think that my commitment to social justice remained consistent even when I wasn't in the public sector. When I became a corporate executive, I tried to maintain a personal pledge to do good.

I worked to make Texaco the first major oil company to stop arguing about the science of climate change and to join those in search of solutions.

At Coca Cola, I learned that I need not and would not leave my conscience at the door for any job. Most of the people I worked with shared those values.

Social justice was never far from my mission, even in those corporate settings. I know we made the workplace in both companies more fair and transparent.

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p.161-163 Apr 12, 2011

On Government Reform: Show up & vote, to claim a stake in government

During my 1st primary campaign, I made a campaign stop at the Local 26 Union Hall in Boston. Local 26 represents about 5000 workers in the hospitality industries. There were the working poor.

Midway through my speech I stopped, put away my notes, and just looked at them. "I want to say something else to you," I said. "I want you to know, I see you." The room got so quiet. "I know you work places where people look right past you. I know that." I paused, took in the entire crowd, and spoke slowly. "I. And I appreciate you."

"The reason I want you to come and vote is that I want your government to see you. And that's not going to happen unless you claim a stake in the government. I want you to come and vote for me. But if you don't come and vote for me, that's okay, I understand. But you have to show up, because this is your claim. So stop leaving it to the pundits and the pollsters to tell us whose turn it is, who's supposed to be next, and who's going to win. It's your turn."

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p.166-168 Apr 12, 2011

On Corporations: Financial bottom line is not the only bottom line

There is a mindset in our country among hard right-wingers and free-market purists that poverty is exclusively the fault of the impoverished. They're lazy. They're not motivated. Capitalism produces the greatest good for the greatest number, and if there's collateral damage in the process, so be it.

All that market fundamentalism is about is letting people's consciences off the hook. If the market is "just," none of us is responsible for the havoc it may wreak. But the invisible hand of the market need not be free of ethical values, and ought not be. In any event, there is a right way to lay off people and a wrong way.

The financial bottom line is not the only bottom line. There is also a community bottom line, an environmental bottom line, a moral bottom line, and public leadership should try to integrate all of them.

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p.169 Apr 12, 2011

On Crime: Criticized for urging DNA tests in rape cases

Early in the primary race, my Republican opponent wanted to portray me as "soft on crime" because, while at the Legal Defense Fund, I had helped a man convicted of murdering a policeman appeal his death sentence. She ran an attack ad that asked, "While lawyers have a right to defend admitted cop-killers, do we really want one as our governor?" (I assume she meant, do we want "such a lawyer as our governor," not a cop-killer.)

In another matter, I had urged MA to conduct a DNA test on a convicted rapist whose guilt seemed in doubt. So another attack ad cast me as a friend of sexual predators and played into racist fears about black men and white women: The camera followed a woman walking through a dark garage, then viewers heard an interview with me in which I described the prisoner, with whom I had exchanged letters, as "thoughtful." The voiceover said, "Have you ever hear a woman compliment a rapist?" (For the record, the DNA test confirmed the man's guilt.)

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p.178-179 Apr 12, 2011

On Principles & Values: American idealism: believe we can perfect our country

I was 6 or 7 years old the first time I heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak on the South Side of Chicago. Long before I knew the clarity of King's vision or the power of his imagery, I understood that hope is a tangible thing. I could feel it. He was the consummate idealist who made us believe that we could perfect our community and our country.

Idealism is vital. It sustains the human soul. The ability to imagine a better place, a better way of doing things, a better way of being in the world is far more than wishful thinking. It is the essential ingredient in human progress.

Idealism built America. The persecuted religious refugees who set out over a vast ocean in small wooden boats with barely a notion of what awaited them in the New World were fortified mainly by an ideal of the community they wished to create. That idealism has always been at the core of our national character.

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p.195-196 Apr 12, 2011

On War & Peace: Bush was careless in starting Iraq war

Kerry was given a perfect opportunity to distinguish himself from Bush in the summer of 2004 when a bipartisan commission issued a damning report on the run-up to the American invasion of Iraq. The weapons of mass destruction, used by Bush to justify his decision to go to war, did not exist. Both candidates were asked: Had you known then what you know now--that there were no weapons of mass destruction--would you have still invaded Iraq?

Bush immediately said yes. Kerry dawdled for 3 days, and many assumed he was conducting a poll to determine the best answer or the best way to frame it. I furiously shot off emails to Kerry's brother, a prominent Boston lawyer who was central to the campaign. I thought Kerry had a chance to present a different vision for using American military force while confronting the Bush administration for its carelessness in starting the war. Instead, he answered the question by agreeing with Bush. I was certain it was not what he believed.

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p.204-205 Apr 12, 2011

On Principles & Values: 2007: Just words? No, rhetoric can be inspirational vision

I told Barack I would endorse him later in the fall in Boston.

I told Obama about the importance of keeping his rhetoric positive and high-minded, that it not only set him apart from other candidates, but expressed the kind of visionary leadership the country needed. I warned him of the obvious: Detractors will dismiss what you say as empty rhetoric just because it's inspirational. I shared with him the riff I had developed in my own campaign--"just words"--and invited him to use it if he ever found it helpful. (He did later in the campaign, which produced a minor uproar in the media.)

Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p.212-213 Apr 12, 2011

The above quotations are from A Reason to Believe
Lessons from an Improbable Life

by Gov. Deval Patrick
Click here for other excerpts from A Reason to Believe
Lessons from an Improbable Life

by Gov. Deval Patrick
Click here for other excerpts by Deval Patrick.
Click here for other excerpts by other Governors.
Please consider a donation to!
Click for details -- or send donations to:
1770 Mass Ave. #630, Cambridge MA 02140
(We rely on your support!)

Page last updated: Nov 24, 2019