Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, right, was joined by Chief Deputy County Executive Gerald Poisson to announce his stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, right, was joined by Chief Deputy County Executive Gerald Poisson to announce his stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki


Oakland County Executive announces cancer diagnosis

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published March 26, 2019

 Shawn Rogers, left, the daughter of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, joins the rest of her family in the front row of a press conference March 26.

Shawn Rogers, left, the daughter of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, joins the rest of her family in the front row of a press conference March 26.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki

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There were jokes between tears, hugs and standing ovations during what Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said would likely be his last-ever press conference March 26.

With his family seated in the front row, Patterson, 80, addressed a conference room packed with county officials and local media and announced that he was recently diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

“It says here ‘Patterson will make a big announcement about his career.’ It’s really a career ending kind of (statement),” he said after speaking of the diagnosis made March 15. “As a guy who has given beau-coop number of (speeches), eulogies are the toughest. And I’ve learned, self-taught, you never want to look staff or family members or close personal friends in the eye, because that’s when it starts to kick in. I try to help young guys giving their first one to look at an empty chair or a picture on the wall — don’t catch their eye. And here I am, with all these faces.”

He said he is currently seeking treatment for the disease at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, and after a brief family vacation, he’ll continue to work until his oncologist says he’s “free to go.”

The seven-term executive said he won’t seek re-election. In the event his position becomes vacant before the end of this term, which he’s halfway through, Chief Deputy County Executive Gerald Poisson will step in until the Oakland County Board of Commissioners appoints a successor or until a special election is held.

The decision not to run was made because, as Patterson said, it would be “silly to speak for another four years” given the grim statistics associated with the diagnosis. Roughly 11 percent of stage 4 pancreatic cancer patients survive beyond two to six months.

But make no mistake, the executive plans to beat the odds.

“Alex Trebek has nothing on me,” Patterson said of the “Jeopardy!” game show host who recently announced he is fighting the same disease. “This is not a goodbye. This is just an announcement of a (expletive) deck of cards I’ve been dealt that I plan to play out.”

During the course of the press conference, Patterson referenced some of his prouder accomplishments over his 26-year tenure, including a consistently balanced budget and a AAA bond rating, maintained even through the Great Recession of 10 years ago.

Also noted in press materials were his initiatives to bring medical and tech industries to Oakland County, and to preserve downtown entertainment areas in 32 Oakland County municipalities. The county is currently at less than 5 percent unemployment and enjoys the title of full employment, meaning anyone who wants and is able to work could have a job in the current regional economy.

He credits the assistance of the “best team in government” with those accolades.

Asked if he would have done anything differently during his lengthy career in the county, first as a prosecutor then as executive, he said he wouldn’t.

Well, maybe one thing.

“Do something differently — you mean besides my ex wife?” he said with a laugh. “I’ve had a great career, 38 at this (executive) end and 18 at the (prosecutor) other end. They’re both great jobs, both jobs I would die for. I guess I shouldn’t say that.”

Among those seated across from Patterson during the solemn announcement was his daughter, Shawn Rogers, of Waterford.

“It’s been hard. It’s been very hard, because I love him so much,” she said. “He has a lot of friends that love him. Friends, family — they all love him. Lots of support.”

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, who worked with Patterson when he was a prosecutor, said he’s an “amazing guy who has done amazing things,” including being a huge supporter of Bouchard’s law enforcement team.

Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner, who announced last month that he’ll be running for Oakland County executive in the next election as a Democrat, was at the press conference, but he declined to talk about politics or whether he had planned to run against Patterson when he originally filed with the county as a candidate back in January.

“Today is about honoring a lifetime of service to Oakland County. That’s all it’s about,” Meisner said.

Bob Gatt, the manager of the Oakland County Animal Shelter and Pet Adoption Center, worked closely with Patterson in recent years to build a new state-of-the-art, 35-000-square-foot facility on the county campus in Pontiac in the fall of 2017.

Asked whether he’s nervous to lose that type of support in the executive’s office, he said that just isn’t his focus right now.

“More importantly, it’s sad. It’s sad to learn of Brooks’ health problems and all. He’s run the best county in the country for the last, what, 24 years or something. It’s very sad. That’s my only thoughts right now,” Gatt said.

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