Public service is the best way to describe Liz Patterson's life and legacy in the Upstate, according to her family and those who knew her.
The former U.S. representative for South Carolina's 4th Congressional District died Saturday after an extended illness. She was 78, a week shy from her 79th birthday, Pat Patterson confirmed Saturday evening.
As a Democrat in a conservative-leaning district, Liz Patterson served the district for three terms, from 1987 to 1993. The district includes Spartanburg and Greenville counties. Her father was former South Carolina Governor Olin D. Johnston, who served in that role for six years beginning in 1935.
She remains the last woman elected to Congress from South Carolina.
Liz Patterson had her debut in politics in 1975 when she was elected to the Spartanburg County Council. She was then elected to the South Carolina senate in 1979 when she was known for restructuring the state budget and serving on the governor's task force on hunger and nutrition.
When representing the 4th Congressional District of South Carolina in the U.S. House, Liz Patterson served on three committees: Veterans’ Affairs; Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs; and the Select Committee on Hunger, according to the U.S. House of Representatives' Office of Art and Archives.
Later in life, she worked at Converse College in Spartanburg, taught at Spartanburg Methodist College and became increasingly involved in her church at Central United Methodist in Spartanburg, Pat Patterson said.
She was also active in the Spartanburg County Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters.
Her last public role was as the president of the Rotary Club of Spartanburg, where she remained a member until her passing, Pat Patterson said, adding that rotary was her "big passion project."
"Her greatest public role was as our congresswoman for six years," Pat Patterson said, "but she always said she wanted her legacy not to be about her and the years she served in office, but hoped that she was remembered for how she left Spartanburg and the 4th District and South Carolina a little bit better than she found it."
Funeral arrangements are still being made but services are expected to take place at the family's church, Central United Methodist on North Church Street in downtown Spartanburg.
Rob Brown, a priest at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Spartanburg, said he was with Liz Patterrson when she died in her home Saturday.
"It was peaceful. It was peaceful," he said.
Brown had known Liz Patterson most of his life. With an interest in politics at a young age, he volunteered on Liz Patterson's campaign. Then when she was elected, she brought him with her to Washington, D.C. There, he served as Liz Patterson's legislative assistant before moving back to the Upstate to work in her district office for five years.
"Public service for her was a way of life. It wasn’t a campaign slogan. She truly worked hard to make a difference in people’s lives," Brown said. "She was kind, thoughtful and sincere and more than anything, authentic. You don’t always here a description like that with politicians, but she was genuine. She cared about the people she served."
Pat Patterson said his mother expressed a desire to be a part of voting in one more election. She got that wish last week, he said.
"That was something that was very important to her," he said.
Pat Patterson said he'll remember how she gave herself to the community during her years outside of public office the most.
"Mom believed politics was just a means to an end. It was all about public service," he said. "I ask everybody that as they remember my mother, remember the public servant and honor her by doing something good to make their community a better place."