St. John’s University Mourns Passing of Hon. Basil Paterson, Alumnus and Political Leader
St. John’s University mourns the passing of the Hon. Basil Paterson ’48C, ’51L, ’79HON, a double alumnus who distinguished himself as a political leader, civil rights champion, and labor lawyer during more than 60 years of service to the people of New York State. He was 87.
“With the passing of Basil Paterson, not only has our University lost a loyal and accomplished alumnus, but our city, state, and nation have lost a public figure of immense importance and profound integrity,” said Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, C.M., president of St. John’s. “We are all truly fortunate to have benefited from his personal commitment to the cause of justice. Our prayers and deepest sympathies are with his wife, Portia; his sons, Daniel and former Governor David Paterson; and the entire family.”
Elected to the New York State Senate in 1965, Paterson was a member of the renowned “Gang of Four”—a Harlem-based group of African-American leaders including Congressman Charles Rangel '60L, '83HON, former New York City Mayor David N. Dinkins, and former Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton.
In the 1970s and 80s, Paterson went on to serve as a deputy mayor under New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch and New York’s first African-American secretary of state under a fellow St. John’s alumnus, former Governor Hugh Carey ’42C, ’51L, ’67HON. Paterson’s son, David, became the first African-American governor of New York in 2008.
More recently, Paterson specialized in labor law at the firm of Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein in Garden City, NY, where he represented the United Federation of Teachers and the 1199/SEIU healthcare workers union. In 2013, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo appointed Paterson as one of the state’s six commissioners on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Paterson also remained active at his alma mater. Earlier this month, he served as a presenter at the Spring 2014 Title VII Symposium sponsored by the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development of St. John’s School of Law.
“Basil Paterson exemplified the values of opportunity and service that have animated St. John’s Law for almost 90 years,” said Dean Michael A. Simons. “As the child of immigrants, he used his legal education as a springboard to a career at the highest levels of government and the legal profession. Just as importantly, he dedicated his career to serving the public and passionately advocating for workers.”
According to Scott Williams, associate vice president of alumni relations at the University, Paterson served as a role model for many—Williams included. “An advocate for the underrepresented and a voice for change, Basil Paterson will be deeply missed by the St. John’s community and the entire state of New York,” he observed. “He lived the Vincentian mission by awakening our social consciousness and challenging us to be our best selves.”