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Patrick, Deval(1956–) - Lawyer, corporate executive, Chronology, Enters Boardroom of Multinational Corporations, Future Role in Politics

black president vice counsel

Deval Laurdine Patrick was raised by his mother and grandparents in a poverty-stricken neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. His father, a saxophone player, left the family when Patrick and his sister were still very   young. Patrick attended the Mary C. Terrell School in the 1960s. Because the school was located in a rough neighborhood bordering a housing project, each student was required to slide a pass under the door to gain entry. Patrick’s teachers and counselors quickly realized his academic potential and recommended him for the scholarship program, A Better Chance. In 1970, he received a scholarship to prestigious Milton Academy. The school provided an environment that young Patrick had never before experienced. He bloomed academically, intellectually, and socially. An English teacher took him on trips with his family. The Milton experience changed Patrick’s entire perspective on life and propelled him into a successful career in civil rights and corporate litigation.

Patrick was the first in his family to go to college. Accepted to five Ivy League colleges, he chose Harvard without hesitation. He majored in English and American literature and graduated cum laude from Harvard in 1978. His stellar academic performance won him a Rockefeller fellowship for a year’s travel and study abroad. Patrick chose to work in the Sudan, as he wanted to learn more about the geography, cultures, and languages of Africa. In Khartoum, he received his acceptance letter to Harvard Law School. At Harvard he continued to excel academically. He worked for the school’s legal clinic and was a member of the winning team in the Moot Court competition. He took the best speaker award.

After his graduation from law school, he was given a coveted clerkship with Stephen Reinhardt, a federal judge, U.S. Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit, Los Angeles. In 1983 Patrick married Diane Bemus and moved to New York City to work as a staff attorney for the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He wanted to specialize in voting rights cases but instead was assigned to litigate cases dealing primarily with capital punishment. He traveled the country, mostly the Deep South, handling appeals for death penalty cases. Patrick and Lani Guinier, another NAACP lawyer, were successful in challenging a number of capital punishment cases using the racial discrimination defense. They also won some high-profile voter registration cases, most notably one against Bill Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas.

In 1986 Patrick had started a family and was ready to curtail his excessive traveling. He was hired at Hill & Barlow in Boston where he joined another Harvard graduate Reginald Lindsay, Hill & Barlow’s first black partner. Patrick became a partner in 1990. He represented black defendants who were pressured into taking high interest home improvement loans through the use of excessive and overbearing sales tactics. Patrick’s efforts resulted in initiatives to improve financial lending to low-income, black communities in Boston. He was known for accepting cases bypassed by the legal community. People praised him for advocating fair and equitable outcomes in his cases.



Born in Chicago, Illinois on July 31


Graduates from Milton Academy, Boston


Graduates with J.D. with honors from Harvard Law School; serves as law clerk for Judge Stephen Reinhardt, U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit


Begins career as a staff attorney for NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; marries Diane Louise Bemus


Hired as an attorney at Hill & Barlow, Boston


Appointed by President Clinton as an assistant attorney general for civil rights


Returns to private practice at Day, Berry & Howard, Boston


Named vice-president and general counsel at Texaco Inc.


Hired by Coca-Cola as executive vice-president and general counsel


Resigns from the position at Coca-Cola


Considers possible run in the Massachusetts gubernatorial race

Enters Boardroom of Multinational Corporations

In December 1998, Patrick was named vice-president and general counsel at Texaco Inc. At 42 years of age, he became the company’s first black vice-president. In mid-1997, while still a partner at Day, Berry, & Howard, Patrick had consented to chair Texaco’s independent Equality and Fairness Task Force on diversity. The seven-member task force was responsible for reviewing and overseeing the company’s hiring and employment practices. It was created by court order as part of the settlement in a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by the company’s black employees. In its first evaluation report, the task force approved of the company’s internal efforts to address race relations and improve career mobility for its minority employees. Patrick resigned from the task force, not wanting to compromise the group’s independence. Some questioned the appointment; others saw it as a sign that Texaco was sincere in its diversity efforts. Patrick served for two years at Texaco as vice-president, general counsel, and executive council member.

Coca-Cola hired Patrick away from Texaco in February 2001. He was appointed as general counsel to settle a class action, racial discrimination lawsuit filed against Coke by its black employees. With his new position, Patrick became the company’s highest-ranking black executive. In 2004, a series of resignations cascaded down the executive ladder at the Atlanta-based soft drink company. Patrick was among the casualties. He resigned days before his third anniversary as executive vice-president, general counsel, and secretary. Although speculations surfaced that Patrick was forced out because the company was unhappy with his handling of its legal troubles, he said he resigned voluntarily for personal and professional reasons. He had revamped Coke’s diversity program but along the way encountered a number of challenging cases. One was a whistleblower suit, filed in 2003, that resulted in Coke’s admission of accounting mistakes. The case precipitated investigations by the U.S. attorney’s office in Atlanta and the Securities and Exchange Commission. In another suit, investors alleged that Coke committed fraud in Japan by rigging marketing tests to inflate sales. Patrick departed in December 2004 with a generous severance package.

Future Role in Politics

Patrick’s star rose steadily through prominent corporate management positions. His name was included on the list of the nation’s highest-paid lawyers and top-ranking African American executives. Despite his increasing responsibilities, he continued in an advisory and consulting role to numerous boards and organizations. He served on the board at Coca-Cola, Reebok, and other large corporations. He was a trustee at Milton Academy. In 1991 Patrick was appointed as vice-chairman and member of the Massachusetts Judicial Nominating Council Executive Committee. The council recruited, screened, and recommended candidates for judgeships to the Republican governor of Massachusetts, William F. Weld. He visited South Africa in 1997 to assist the government in drafting civil rights legislation.

Patrick dabbled in politics but stayed mostly on the sidelines. In 1997, the attorney general of Massachusetts, Scott Harshbarger, named Patrick as the general chairman of his campaign in the race for governor. Many expected that if Harshbarger won, Patrick would be named to his cabinet. Failing that, he would at some point run for political office. Patrick took the leap of faith in 2005 when he announced that he was testing the waters for a potential run in the Massachusetts governors’ race. Patrick certainly has plenty of what it takes to win a campaign: money and brains. His future in politics may be secure.

Patty (AKA The Shame of Patty Smith) (1962) - Overview, Synopsis, Critique [next] [back] Patou, Jean

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