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Alan P. Henry, Freelance Reporter
4:42 am CDT August 7, 2019

The savings and loan crisis of the 1980s was the most catastrophic collapse of the banking industry since the Great Depression and ultimately resulted in the failure of nearly a third of the nation’s 3,234 S&Ls. Throughout the decade and beyond, Robert Patterson and the large team he assembled and managed at Hopkins & Sutter law firm in Chicago, worked with federal banking and regulatory agencies to bring order and just resolution to the chaos.

In addition to being a successful attorney, Patterson was a devoted family man and a dedicated public servant whose legal, financial and leadership skills proved a significant asset, first in Northbrook, and then later in life in Lake Forest.

Robert W. Patterson died May 13, 2019 at age 83. A celebration of his life was held on Saturday, Aug. 3 at the Village Presbyterian Church.

Patterson spent most of his childhood in Parkersburg, W.V., where he played football, and graduated from Parkersburg High School in 1953. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in
political science and economics from The University of Illinois in 1957, was in the ROTC, and spent time in France as a Naval Officer candidate. 

He met his future wife, Bonnie Grace Payne, at the University of Illinois and married her on June 30, 1957.  He continued on to law school at Northwestern University, where he was an editor of the Northwestern Law Review and earned his Juris Doctor degree in 1960.

Patterson began his law career with Mayer, Brown, and Platt in 1960, joined Hopkins & Sutter (H&S) in 1964, and became a partner there in 1968. He began working with the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation, and as increasing numbers of financial institutions across the country began to fail in the ’70s and ’80s, demand for his services, and the services of H&S, boomed.  

“The firm’s business just grew and grew,” recalled Michael Duhl, who as a partner at H&S worked closely with Patterson. “In order to be able to build the team to try to do all that, you needed to have the ability to get lawyers to want to work with you, especially out of town, and Bob was just a magical person in that sense. He was one of the most unselfish people I’ve ever met in terms of giving people credit for what they did and organizing and building the team that was necessary to service a client like that.”

As managing partner for what became the largest client list in the firm, Patterson supervised the legal resources for receiverships for the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation/Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. 

His work involved investigation and pursuit of professional liability actions against former officers, directors, and accountants from the insolvent banking institutions. Ultimately, the total taxpayer cost of the federal bailout was roughly $130 billion, 30 percent more than the $100 billion cost (in 2018 dollars) of the Marshall Plan following WWII.

“It was a major crisis at the time and we were heavily involved,” Duhl said. “I  think it is fair to say we were the principal counsel that helped the agency get through it all. At any one time we had tens of lawyers working on it in various cities and Bob was in charge of it all.”

In 1992, Patterson was listed by the “National Law Journal” as one of the 100 most influential attorneys in the United States in recognition of his leadership in providing legal services to various federal banking regulatory agencies during the crisis. When Patterson retired from H&S he had practiced for more than 35 years.

Patterson and his family settled in Northbrook, where he was elected to the Board of Trustees for two consecutive terms from 1973 to 1981. As a member of the Planning Commission of the Village of Northbrook, he was instrumental in securing the development of Northbrook Court Mall within the village. The tax revenue from that development spurred growth and financial security in Northbrook.

A family man at heart, Patterson was always attending his daughters’ swim meets, recitals and school events and was involved in his community, church, and neighborhood. Parties, vacations, fishing and camping trips, and outings were standard fare and he always made sure everyone had a good time and ate great food — whether at a block party, Old Willow Club, a ski resort, the grandstand of a Bears game, a Florida shrimp boil, or around a campfire by the Wisconsin River.

Bonnie, his wife of 37 years, served as a Girl Scout Leader and Council Board Member for many years. He created a scholarship fund for Gold Award Girl Scouts in her honor after her death on May 21, 1994.

Patterson married Lucille “Lu” Jean (DiCarlo) Eiseman, on June 10, 2000 and together they traveled the world over. They also enjoyed fun closer to home in Lake Forest, playing golf, and socializing with friends. He was also a whiz in the kitchen, offering up specialties like gazpacho and beer butt chicken. 

“Bob loved to cook. He really spoiled me,” Lu said.

More importantly, she said, “Bob was a kind person and a good friend. Whatever there is positive to day about someone, that is what Bob was.”

Patterson always enjoyed engaging and connecting with people, and continued to play an active role in Lake Forest as a member of the Legal Committee for the city from 2005 to 2009. He was an early Board Member and served on the Conway Farms Commons Homeowners Association until 2014.

Robert Patterson was the husband of Lucille “Lu” Jean Patterson; father of Amy (Rocky) Cardin, Julia (Jay) Charlesworth, and the late Emily (Kirk) Brenner; grandfather of Caitlin (Jason) Rudy and Hannah (fiancé Paul DiStefano) Cardin; Payne and Ainsley Charlesworth; Noah, Zane, and Kyle Brenner; stepfather of Fred R. Eiseman, IV; and step-grandfather of Zachary and Hannah Eiseman.