By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Aubrey Patterson’s opening line when he stood to rebut those who roasted him at a recent Mississippi Press Association event was perfect.
“I am at loss for words,” Patterson said. It would be incorrect to say the BancorpSouth chairman and former chief executive officer deadpanned because the word has the connotation that someone is acting. Patterson was not. It was his normal, dry, matter-of-fact delivery.
Master of Ceremonies Sid Salter referred to him as chairman of the “bored” during the roast that is conducted annually to raise money to provide scholarships for worthy journalism students. I know the punchline. Do worthy journalism students actually exist?
But at any rate, Patterson, 69, joins a long list of roastees from the political and business community. Even some journalists have been subjected to the mockery.
But in many ways Patterson was the most challenging of all those roasted.
He is prim and proper, not prone to bombastic or outrageous statements like many politicians are. He has no embarrassing personal traits.
In many ways, he is an example of Presbyterians’ historic views about work and duty, and he is a longtime member of First Presbyterian Church in Tupelo, where he is an elder.
Aubrey Patterson is perfectly dressed, coifed and spoken. Do a search for stereotypical banker/Presbyterian, and Aubrey Patterson will pop up.
Of course, much was made of Patterson’s reserved nature by the roasters, consisting of Gov. Phil Bryant, Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds, Lee County-based Community Development Foundation President David Rumbarger, Mississippi Economic Council President Blake Wilson and political cartoonist Marshall Ramsey.
Bryant joked his favorite government document was the Second Amendment – the right to bear arms – while Patterson’s was Page 3,073 of the federal tax code.
Bryant did a top 10 list of things more exciting than Aubrey Patterson. Things more exciting than Patterson included Aubrey Patterson sleeping.
Of course, jokes were made about Patterson being a banker. Bounds said bankers’ hearts are treasured by those needing transplants because “a banker’s heart is seldom used.”
Bryant revealed, “I have known Aubrey Patterson for a long time. We were in business together. He owned the mortgage on my home.”
Bounds quipped the problem with bankers’ jokes is that bankers do not think they are funny and others do not think they are jokes.
It was pointed out that most of those Patterson selected to roast him were beholden to him in some way. Patterson is a member of the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning – an appointee of former Gov. Haley Barbour. Bounds is hired by the board and reports to the board. Patterson was a key member of the CDF board that brought in Rumbarger to run the economic development agency.
Even Bryant is beholden to Patterson in that as a candidate he has courted the banker’s backing – financial and otherwise.
Patterson was described as a speech waiting to happen. Wilson said Patterson followed the philosophy of Calvin Coolidge, who said, “I have never been hurt by what I have not said.”
With comments like that, Patterson’s opening line, that he was at a loss for words, was perfect.
I have dealt with Patterson for a long time. Truth be known, at one point I went to church with him – even though if you look up the definition of Presbyterian in the dictionary you will not find my picture.
While the roasters were funny, Patterson is seldom, if ever, at a loss for words. He is instead careful, and well thought out in his words.
In his most truthful moments, Patterson probably would concede that he wished many of the politicians he has supported through the years would follow his lead in, well, thinking before they speak.
Aubrey Patterson is far from a shrinking violent. He has argued aggressively for his position – whether improving the state’s educational system or lessening regulations for banks – in multiple halls of power. He is respected and in some cases feared in those halls.
And, of course, the roasters know that, but their job was to be funny, which they were on occasion.
But the roasters also went out of their way to point out the difference Patterson has made not only in Lee County, but throughout the state – whether advocating for better education or for more economic development opportunities for Mississippians.
“He has changed Mississippi for the better,” Bryant said.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau chief. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (601) 353-3119.