In Memoriam: Elizabeth “Liz” Patterson (1939 – 2018)

My family taught me that our world is only as good as you make it, and one of the ways to make it better is to participate in the political process.

~ Liz Patterson, announcing for Congress in 1986


Former congresswoman Elizabeth “Liz” Johnston Patterson passed away on November 10, 2018.  The younger daughter of U.S. Senator Olin Johnston, Patterson lived her entire life in the public eye and devoted her adult life to public service.   Patterson spent much of her childhood in and around Washington, D.C., and, as a nine-year-old, attracted the attention of a writer for Life for her roller-skating outside the Capitol building.  After graduating from Columbia College, she worked with the newly-organized Peace Corps, then with VISTA and Head Start.  She also worked on her father’s final, successful reelection campaign in 1962, a hard-fought campaign in which Johnston was opposed in the Democratic primary by then-Governor “Fritz” Hollings and a then-rare Republican challenge by journalist Bill Workman.  In 1964, Patterson helped Lyndon Johnson win a full presidential term and accompanied his wife in campaigning across the South by rail on the Lady Bird Special.

Patterson and Mann

Liz Patterson campaigning with Jim Mann

Patterson served on the staff of Congressman Jim Mann, on the Spartanburg County Council, and in the S.C. Senate, 1979 to 1986.  She represented S.C.’s Fourth District in Congress from 1987 to 1993 as the first South Carolina woman elected to a full term in Congress.

A noted fiscal conservative and budget expert, the Democrat held her seat in the district for three terms.  Her legislative accomplishments included helping to establish childcare facilities in Veterans’ Administration medical centers.  She was a strong supporter of the balanced budget amendment.  As reporter Lee Bandy wrote in The State in 1990, “Republicans…try to cast Rep. Patterson as a liberal, although she’s the most conservative Democrat in the House, according to a vote study conducted by Congressional Quarterly.”

Olin Johnston

Liz Johnston on her father’s lap

In 1992, in an increasingly conservative and competitive district, Patterson was defeated in her bid for a fourth term by Republican Bob Inglis.  She went on to teach at Spartanburg Methodist College and was active in Rotary Club and with the Spartanburg County Democratic Party.

A great friend to SCPC, Patterson donated papers consisting of some 19 feet of material that primarily document her campaigns for office and service in the state Senate and Congress.  With her sister Sallie Scott, Patterson also donated rich family papers and photographs that have been added to the papers of her parents, Olin and Gladys Johnston.

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