Legislator Jim Patterson remembered as a legislative champion

October 4, 2017

Today we remember Alabama State Representative, Jim Patterson who passed away on Monday of a sudden heart attack. Representative Patterson was a legislative champion and a dedicated advocate for the autism community. He celebrated one of his greatest legislative achievements last year when his bill requiring certain fully insured health benefit plans to cover life-changing autism therapy was passed and signed into law.

Many members of the Autism Speaks community worked closely with the representative, including Mike Wasmer, Director of State Government Affairs, who shared his memory of Patterson:

“I will remember Representative Patterson as a kind, passionate man of faith. When asked if he would consider sponsoring the autism insurance reform bill, he said he first needed to pray on it. With much emotion in his voice, he spoke about how even though he knew that it would not be easy and that it was a politically risky issue for him to champion, he said, "It is simply the right thing to do."  His leadership and tireless advocacy are what got this bill passed.  In doing so, he has helped the lives of countless families impacted by autism.”

Alabama political reporter, Brian Lyman honored Jim Patterson in the following tribute:

“What stands out in the Alabama Legislature is power. Power that builds up the strong; power that widens our divisions; power that perpetuates itself. Rare indeed are the moments when the Legislature uses its authority to comfort the afflicted, or relieve a burden, or help the weak. Alabamians are deeply cynical about their state government. The tortured history of this state -- guided by leaders who all too often see themselves as tools of the strong -- justifies that.

By all rights, the fight to extend insurance coverage for autism therapies this spring should have been another sad step in Alabama's mournful journey. The state's omnipotent health insurer opposed it; the state's leading business lobby opposed it and those are two forces that can crush nearly anything in their path. The bill got nicked and scratched and fell into maneuvers designed to kill it. It lingered on the calendar long enough to be another victim of the Legislature's Arrow of Time.

It wasn't.

Parents and activists gave up time at work and drove for hours to make sure legislators saw them (and their children). A group of Democratic and Republican senators warned that they would hold the session hostage if the bill didn't come to a vote. And the bill's sponsor, Jim Patterson, refused to accept it was dead. He kept up his optimism in the face of relentless difficulties and tribulations and, after a 2 a.m. vote in a marathon session, achieved that rare sight in Alabama politics: A law to help those who need help.

Patterson died of a heart attack today. As I wrote this obituary, I wondered how many elected officials in this state's 198-year history could say that their last public act made the vulnerable a little less so; or made a person's struggles a little less difficult; or helped a child become a more capable adult.

If we had more of them, we'd have fewer cynics.”

We are grateful for Representative Patterson’s leadership, dedication, and perseverance; and we will honor his memory as we continue to support individuals with autism in Alabama.


The following arrangements have been made for Jim Patterson:

Visitation – Thursday, October 5, 2017 at Meridianville First Baptist

Celebration of Life – Friday, October 6, 2017 at Hazel Green High School Gymnasium

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You can also reach the Autism Response Team by phone or email: 888-288-4762, en Espanol 888-772-7050, or help@autismspeaks.org.