Tabor City native to receive coveted North Carolina Award
For more than 40 years, Jane Smith Patterson has been paving the way for women in North Carolina politics and digital technology. After her start as a young organizer and activist in her hometown of Tabor City, Patterson left home for college when she was 16 years old.
She eventually became one of the first female chairs of a county Democratic party in North Carolina. She took on major digital technology projects around the state as a cabinet member for Gov. Jim Hunt. Now she promotes high-speed Internet in rural areas.
Patterson is one of six people who will be awarded the coveted North Carolina Awards on Thursday, Nov. 9 at a black tie event at the Raleigh Marriott City Center. Gov. Roy Cooper and Secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Susi H. Hamilton will make the presentations. The awards have been given annually since 1961 to citizens who have distinguished themselves and obtained distinction for notable accomplishments in the fields of public service, science, literature, and fine arts. It is the highest honor the governor and the State of North Carolina can bestow.
Patterson will be recognized in the public service category. Other recipients will be Margaret Donovan Bauer for literature, Phillip G. Freelon for fine arts, Rike M. Jayanly for science, and the Honorable Loretta Lynch and James H. Woodard for public service.
Patterson is president of Jane Patterson and Associates, providing consulting services about information technology and broadband deployment, adoption and use to companies in this country and abroad. She served as executive director of the e-NC Authority, an organization with a goal of brining high-speed Internet access to the citizens, businesses and institutions of North Carolina, particularly in rural areas.
Prior to taking this leadership position in 2001, Patterson worked for Gov. Hunt through his four terms in office, first as secretary of administration, then as chief advisor for policy, budget and technology, and finally as senior advisor for science and technology and director of the office for technology.
Patterson is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has completed post-graduate degree work at N.C. State University and additional studies at Harvard University. She serves on a number of boards for nonprofit organizations, including the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.
She has served in many positions that have direct impact on the growth of Geographical Information Systems technologies, including chairing the founding year of the Global Spatial Data Initiative.
In addition be being a technology executive, Patterson is an activist, which began at a Greensboro movie theater in the early 1960s. Outraged when an African-American friend was refused a ticket, the 17-year-old UNC-Greensboro student determined to spend her life working for equality.
After transferring to UNCChapel Hill and graduating, Patterson began a career in state politics as Assistant Secretary and later Secretary of Administration in Gov. Hunt’s cabinet. During Hunt’s first term (1977-81), she spearheaded development of the first coordinated information technology model. This was the beginning of Patterson’s efforts to link government, the economy and technology to better the lives of North Carolinians.
She continued her technology drive during Hunt’s third and fourth terms (1993-2001), and, after he left office, as director of the e-NC Authority, a public initiative to increase broadband access statewide.
Working with the public and private sectors, the E-NC Authority was able to increase the availability of connectivity to North Carolina households from 36 percent to 82 percent and bring in millions of dollars of federal funding for broadband infrastructure upgrades.
“Technology,” Patterson said, “is an equalizer. Internet access has linked students in rural North Carolina to resources they need for classes previously unavailable to them. From research databases to easy personal communication with remote instructors, broadband has worked to bridge the rural urban gap.”
Patterson arduously campaigned to expand women’s rights and participation in government. Since her 20s, she has been involved in the national and state Women’s Political Caucus and crusaded for the Equal Rights Amendment.
Her work has opened up more government positions to women and minorities, in hopes of ensuring fair representation. Smith credits her father for instilling the value she places on equality.
Patterson still strives to ensure that institutions are open to all. The motivation, she says, is simple: “To create a fairer North Carolina.”