Former Gov. Paul Patton joked Tuesday that while supporters don’t usually put up statues of people before they die, he might not have been able to make sure a likeness of him was done correctly if they had waited.
“We just speeded it up a little bit,” Patton said of a project to create a life-size statue of him on the campus of the University of Pikeville.
Hundreds gathered Tuesday for a ceremony unveiling the statue, which was financed by donations.
Speakers at the event lauded Patton’s decades of public service and work to improve Pike County, Eastern Kentucky and the state.
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Patton, a Democrat, got his start in the coal industry before serving as Pike County judge-executive; lieutenant governor and head of the state Economic Development Cabinet; two terms as governor beginning in 1995; and president of UPike.
Patton was the first Kentucky governor to succeed himself in nearly 200 years, which was made possible by a change in the state constitution.
Speakers at Tuesday’s event said Patton worked tirelessly to try to improve Pike County, his home region and the state.
As judge-executive, he improved roads and financial accounting, built fire stations and parks, and started mandatory household garbage collection, supporters said.
As governor, he pushed economic development initiatives and earned a legacy as the “education governor” for his efforts to improve the early-childhood programs, adult education and the state’s universities, speakers said.
For instance, state Sen. Ray Jones, a Democrat from Pikeville, said public universities in Kentucky created 111 endowed chairs and 176 endowed professorships in four years under a part of Patton’s plan to improve higher education called Bucks for Brains.
“I do not believe we will ever see a governor exceed his record of accomplishment,” Jones said.
Terry Dotson, chairman of the UPike trustees, said Patton helped make a medical school and a school of optometry realities at the university, not only helping firm up its future but benefiting students and the region.
The medical school graduated its 1,000th doctor this year, and the school of optometry will open soon as one of the most advanced in the nation, Dotson said.
“Paul has touched everything to do with this region,” Dotson said.
Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers said Patton tackled the job of reforming higher education in Kentucky when no one else would.
Rogers called Patton a friend and joked they only disagree one day a year — Election Day.
Patton remains committed to helping his region, Rogers said, noting Patton heads a committee of the Shaping Our Appaachian Region (SOAR) initiative focused on trying to figure out ways to improve the economy and quality of life.
“I call him the chief visionary for our region,” Rogers said.
The statue includes an inscription that Patton said was a quote from his father, educator Wade Patton: “Learn as though you were to live forever. Live as though you were to die tomorrow.”
Patton said he was gratified by the project to honor him.
“It’s a monument to my life’s work,” Patton said. “Maybe people will realize and appreciate what I tried to do for this commonwealth and for this area.”