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Lives & Times Of Valley Folks: Patrick Ford

I met with Patrick at the Veterans Hall / Senior Center in Boonville a couple of weeks ago. It seemed an obvious choice as we are both Senior Center Board members and Pat is shortly to be announced as the next Commander of the Boonville branch of the American Legion.

Patrick (‘Pat’) was born in 1949 in Artesia, Orange County, in southern California – near to Disneyland and the Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park. His parents were John Ford and Georgia Barker. The Ford’s were of Irish/English ancestry and had originally settled in western New York State in the mid-1800’s, leaving Ireland sometime before the famine years of the late 1840’s, and eventually settling in California at some point. The Barkers were English who had also come across in the mid 1800s, although in their case they settled in the mid-West, with Pat’s mother growing up in Missouri. Pat’s maternal grandfather was a carpenter in the construction industry and he moved the family to southern California for more work and the better weather in the 1920’s. Pat’s parents met and were married in 1945 with son Raymond being born in 1946, then Pat in ‘49, and finally daughter Toni in 1951. In the mid 1950’s, when Pat was seven, his parents split up and the family were rarely to see each other again.

“I went with my mother and sister and we moved to Washington D.C. My life in those early years is very vague to me now. I remember such things as the severe electrical storms in D.C. and all the cars having those rubber strips hanging down from the wheel guards touching the road to provide a ground and prevent shocks to the passengers. I remember fireflies; I remember the weather. My time with family is tough to remember. At the age of nine I came out to California and spent two years in Santa Rosa in northern California with my brother at my Grandfather Ford’s home. My Dad was there some of the time. I never learned what happened to everyone in the family; nobody told us the whole story. I saw my brother for those two years and that was about it.”

Pat attended St. Rosa’s Catholic School five blocks from their home and earned pocket money by running a large paper route with his brother. Then when he was eleven, he moved down to southern California to where his mother, sister, new stepfather, and stepbrother Edward had moved, while his brother remained in Santa Rosa with his father and grandfather. “We lived in West Covina, a newer suburb of Los Angeles and I attended Orangewood Junior High before going to Edgewood High School from 1964 to 1967. I was an outdoors kid, easy going, well behaved, and rarely in any sort of trouble. I did yard work and helped my sister with her baby-sitting jobs. I was really into all sports and was a letterman in the main three – basketball, baseball, and football. I also did track when it didn’t clash with the others – the 440, the 880, long jump and high jump. In between my sophomore and junior years my mother and stepfather moved the family to Chino, which was in a different school district and therefore I would have to go to a different high school. My coaches did not want to lose me and I didn’t want to go either. My case went to court and finally I was allowed to stay at Edgewood but only if the coaches picked me up and dropped me off for school each day – a journey of one-and-a-half hours. The coaches agreed. I guess I was seen as a hotshot athlete back then - these days colleges would be putting money into my mother’s pocket to recruit me! I played varsity basketball all four years at high school, and three years of varsity football and baseball. With all the sports, the traveling to and from school, and my chores at home, I had little time for any sort of social life – my friends were on the teams with me and it seemed that sports was all I ever had time for. I had no time to screw up even if I wanted to! I was six foot, five inches tall and played forward or center, averaging 28 points a game in my high school career. I am not boasting; I was a good player.”

Pat was an above average student and particularly liked history. He graduated in 1967 and was offered many basketball scholarships by colleges, but choose Mt San Antonio Junior College near to his home in Chino. “I was done with all the traveling and several coaches advised me to go to this college where I would be playing with bigger, older guys, and therefore get a better idea on any pro prospects that I might have had. Going to a more established program was not as important back then. After two years there, during which I averaged 26 points per game, in 1969 I received a full scholarship to transfer to a small but highly regarded basketball school with plenty of exposure to scouts of pro teams – South West Louisiana in Lafayette, the sister school of L.S.U.”

This was when fate played a major role in Pat’s life. The Vietnam War was at its height and the draft lottery system had been introduced. Because Pat had transferred, he would have to sit out of sports for a year but the conference he would be playing in allowed him five years to complete four years of college so he would still get four years of basketball. This worked well from a basketball point of view but it meant for that first year he was eligible for the draft. He had registered in Pasadena, California back in 1967 and had drawn #52 in the event of a lottery. The lottery began and, with such a low number, after just one semester at college, Pat was drafted into the military.

“I refused to join the Army, which you could do if another branch of the military would accept you. My brother was in the Marines and my grandfather Ford had been also. I joined the Marine Corps in late November 1970 and so went from being a ‘Ragin’ Cajun’ (the nickname of the college team) to a Jarhead (the Navy’s name for the marines) in no time at all.”

Pat tries to put a positive spin on this setback to his basketball dreams. “I didn’t like the food in college anyway! And it was colder in Louisiana than I thought it would be too!” However, one ‘perk’ of his college days in Louisiana was that he met Sonya Dell Ryland, whom he married on March 6th, 1971 in Alexandria, Louisiana.

Pat was sent to Camp Pendleton in southern California where he went through boot camp and then on to advanced infantry training. He was a platoon and company leader for the recruits – “that basically means you are first up and last to bed.” He then moved to Lakehurst, New Jersey where he spent six months training as a parachute rigger – working with safety and survival equipment and specifically the packing of parachutes. “I was to be assigned to an F4 squadron of attack planes and would be responsible for the gear, helmets, safety equipment, and parachutes of the two-man crew - the pilot and his radar operator. To graduate from the class you had to jump out of a plane wearing a parachute you had packed yourself. I did that several times.”

At the end of 1971, Patrick was shipped to El Toro, California where he was assigned to the F4 fighter planes of the Marine Fighter Attack Squadrons 212 and 235 before receiving orders to go to Vietnam for three months from April to June 1972. “Sonya was with me in Lakehurst and El Toro and when I went overseas she stayed in California. On the flight to Vietnam we played cards the whole way and then landed at Da Nang Air Base in the northern part of South Vietnam – just eighty miles south of the D.M.Z. I can still remember vividly the heat and humidity when we arrived at the Da Nang base. They took away our real money and gave us ‘funny money’ instead – Vietnamese ‘dongs’. It was seven days a week; twelve hours on, twelve hours off. We were short a few men and so two of us were doing the work of four. Security at the base and for the surrounding area was quite something. If anything or anyone came near us that shouldn’t, it was dealt with immediately. Anything. There was a kill zone and if anything unexpected over fifty pounds entered that zone it was killed instantly. The North Vietnamese would try to get close with mortars but they were given no chance. It always amazed me why other places in Vietnam could not be as secure – we had such lethal weaponry.”

Patrick was promoted on merit through the ranks to sergeant. He was highly regarded in his field and led his team of parachute riggers well. So well that when volunteers were asked for to go on search and rescue teams he was not allowed to apply – he was needed at his job. After his three-month stint in Vietnam, he was posted to Kaneohe Marine Base on Oahu, Hawaii where Sonya joined him and they were allowed to live off base. There he was responsible for the safety equipment of the marine pilots and crew of fourteen F-4’s – “lots of them were college graduates, just a year or so older than me. Those F-4 attack fighters did a great job in Vietnam. Even when they had fired all their rockets, ammunition, and napalm, they would then do a mock climb, straight up in the air with the after-burner on and then ‘boom!!’ – it could perforate your eardrums if you were not expecting it. They would fly so low to the ground too, although you could tell the married guys – they flew maybe not quite as low as the more carefree bachelors! Because of my particular skill and the fact that the job I had was one of high security, I didn’t get out to see the really gruesome side of the war, but I did get to know the smell of burning flesh and hair and that’s something you never forget.”

Although Pat’s basketball career had been derailed by the war, he still played pick-up games while in the military. In such games he twice broke an ankle and he decided to take a medical review. This was a year after he had arrived in Hawaii and it was decided to give him an honorable discharge as a result of his injuries. This was June 1973 and he had served for “two years, seven months, four days” during which time he received a Bronze Star and a good conduct medal. “I was never sick for a day. I hadn’t missed a day at school or college either.”

Following his discharge, he and Sonya clashed about their very different views of the war. She attended numerous anti-war protests and Patrick knew their major philosophical differences would never allow the relationship to work. “Neither of us was willing to change at the time. It was too bad. We kept in touch vaguely over the years although in recent times we have been in contact quite often. She is in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she is a lawyer.”

After his discharge from the Marines, Pat left Hawaii and settled in the San Diego area where he rented an apartment and worked in construction, painting, and wall covering for a number of years before later doing the same work for a real estate company all over southern California. By the early eighties he wanted a break from the hard physical labor and moved to West Covina once again, near to Pasadena, where he went into sales at a car dealership. He soon took on a second job at a competing dealership. “For two or three years I was selling Fords and Pontiacs – in competition with myself!”

With Pat holding two jobs of one kind or another over many years he did not find the time to develop his personal life. “The divorce certainly left scars and I didn’t want to make any sort of commitment to anyone. I was out of touch with my family and remained very leery of any in-depth relationships.” From the mid-eighties for the following ten years or so, Pat worked for Bakery Industrial Services, installing baking equipment in the southern California area. He enjoyed the job but he had to quit in 1995 when his old ankle problems surfaced once again and he had to have a fusion operation. The time off did allow him to further his education and he took a course to become a medical assistant in Glendale, California, graduating in 1997. The course also provided him with two-and-a-half years credit towards medical school. “I applied for jobs in hospitals but for one reason or another, mostly the need to fill quotas, I was not on the ‘right’ list.”

During his recuperation from the surgery, Patrick rented a room from the mother of a friend of his. This was Barbara Lamb, a woman who had owned property in Anderson Valley for over ten years and who would visit the Valley for months on end. “She decided she wanted to move to this Valley permanently in 1997 and I helped her move here, to her property in Yorkville. I had never been here before and really liked it. I returned to southern California but with jobs so scarce down there, within six months I decided to move up and live on Barbara’s property in the Yorkville Highlands. That was in 1998. For a time I moved off Barbara’s land (I listened to Rush Limbaugh, she didn’t) and stayed on the property of her neighbor, Abby Maxsom’s property and then at Kevin Owen’s place nearby. I did move into Boonville for six months when I worked at The Buckhorn Saloon when Urs owned it and I lived in the house behind the pub. I left there and returned to Barbara’s place in Yorkville, this time to the flat land on her upper hills.”

Over the years Patrick has used his many skills learned in the construction business to be the handyman and perform maintenance on many of the properties near where he lives. “If it was broke, I fixed it. I ran phone lines, repaired fences, fixed plumbing, etc, etc. and as more jobs were completed in Yorkville I did stuff in Boonville too. I started to go to the Senior Center for lunch and then, following a D.U.I. I did some community service there. This led to me doing some projects around the place, which, as the Veterans Hall, is also home to the local branch of the American Legion. I continued to volunteer there and got more involved. I had been a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in southern California and the Legion down there also. I transferred my membership to Boonville and next month will be the new Commander of the post – one of the smallest in the country.”

Patrick joined the Senior Center Board in 2009 and his work behind the scenes for that organization is invaluable. He works on the garden there and fixes whatever needs fixing. “I love the Valley in that it gives me so many opportunities to grow plants and trees, both at home and at the Senior Center. I always have something to do. It is very peaceful where I live and there is so much to keep you positive - the birds and bees, the fruit trees, the constant lifestyle around nature, and of course my dog, border collie Taff. I go to bed at sunset in the winter and get up at sunrise. I have my coffee and start my chores and work projects around there, raining or not, and only stop to kick a ball around for Taff. In the evenings I do like to watch college sports on television, mainly basketball. What’s not to like around here? Well I guess we don’t have a convenience store! It is tough sometimes to live high up in the hills with my bad knees and ankles. I just had knee surgery and there is another one in the future but I am hopeful of a good recovery.”

I asked Patrick about his estrangement from his family. “I am not sure if my parents are dead or alive. I have been out of touch with them for 30, 40 years. I’ve not seen my father since I was in high school. I last saw my mother when I was in the marines, forty years ago. I saw my brother just after that, briefly in Hawaii when we were both in the marines, but not since. My sister I saw thirty years ago. I do think about al that sometimes, but not often. We were never really a family, at the most for just a couple of years when I was very young. I do wonder sometimes if I should have been more motivated to keep in touch. I never disliked them and there was never any falling out to speak of. It was just not a caring, close-knit family situation but I never went hungry. My mother would be in her mid-eighties if she were still alive. Sometimes it can depress me but not for long. I am realistic about what happened although there is no real explanation other than we were just not a family to start with. By my early teenage years I hardly knew them and had spent very little time with them. It just happened that way.”

I asked Patrick for his thoughts or comments about these frequently discussed Valley issues or topics of conversation?

The Wineries? “How many do we have here now? How many do we need? I do think the Hispanic speaking winery workers could really help better themselves if they learned more English. They could perhaps get different jobs, better jobs. I am not against the wineries, in fact I am a member of the Claudia Springs wine club.”

The AVA? “I do not buy it anymore but occasionally read other people’s copies.”

KZYX local public radio? “I don’t listen much; we get poor reception where we live and they don’t play the music I like. I tend to listen to San Francisco and Sacramento stations and sports radio in particular. I am something of a conservative politically, but no matter what I am I have to listen to the stations that come in up on the hills.”

I posed a few questions to my guest. Some from a questionnaire featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton.”

What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing? “A warm sunny day.”

What annoys you; brings you down? “The biting cold wind we can get where I live.”

Sound or noise you love? “Running water in a stream or creek.”

Sound or noise you hate? “Woodpeckers.”

What would be your “last supper”? “T-bone steak with mashed potatoes and asparagus.”

If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation over dinner, who would that person be? “Albert Einstein.”

If you were sitting at home and a fire broke out in the building, what three things would you make sure you took with you? “Just me and Taff. There is nothing else worth saving.”

Does anything scare you? – “Very little.”

Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? “Ireland, and Stonehenge in the UK.”

Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? “A film would be ‘Bridge on the River Kwai,’ and the song in that movie, the River Kwai March. It reminded me of the military, building the best thing in town and then destroying it. ‘Dig a hole; and now fill it’.”

Favorite hobby as a teenager? And now? “As a high-schooler I liked to work on cars. For a time when I moved to the Valley, I enjoyed being a roadie for some local bands. Musician Christy Wells used to call me the ‘Special Needs Guy’ because I was always able to come up with something to fix a problem. These days my hobby is gardening.”

Favorite word or phrase? “I find myself using the phrase ‘Oh, I see, selective memory’ when I find that people have conveniently forgotten something.”

Profession other than your own you’d like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? “Pro athlete. Basketball put me on that road but it didn’t work out. I was very disappointed to have to stop playing after suffering serious injuries in the military.”

Profession or job would you not like to do? “Cleaning out horse stalls. I did it as a kid for a time.”

How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? “I was 17 and took a girl named Gidget to a sock-hop dance at high school.”

Something you’d do differently if you could do it over again? “I probably have stayed in the military for 20 or 30 years. I would have had a new trade and pension when I got out. I got out to rehab my ankle so I could get back to playing sports but it turned out there was too much trauma in the joints and that was it. If I had not asked for the medical review and stayed in the Marines, who knows?”

A moment or period of time you will never forget? “My high school years and all the sports I enjoyed. I was a top prospect. I never shot less than 90% from the foul line and won several tournament MVP awards.”

Something you are really proud of and why? “That I have been helpful to many people. I have physical problems with my joints but I am still doing a lot for others.”

Favorite thing about yourself, your best quality? “That I am a very positive person.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “It’s not your time yet, go back and continue to serve.”

(To read the stories of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at The next interview will appear in the AVA on June 27th (4th Wednesday). The guest interviewee from the Valley on that occasion will be announced.)

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