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Bridging the divide
When Jim Patton was a boy growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s in Apalachicola, the only son of a father and mother who would each represent the region as state representative in Tallahassee, he had a vague understanding of his dad’s family back in Oklahoma.
“I knew that I had three half-sisters in Oklahoma and I used to get Christmas presents and birthday presents,” said Patton.
The family had never visited Apalachicola until the youngest daughter, Lois Patton Olzawski, her husband Tom and their six children showed up around the year Patton was graduating from Chapman High School with the Class of 1966.
“I had showed back up at the house and my mom says ‘Go to your aunt Sadie house. Your youngest sister is here and they want to meet you.’” he recalled.
Sadie Spears, wife of Joe Spears, who had a store downtown and was Apalachicola’s “eye doctor,” was Bryant Patton’s half-sister, a member of a sprawling collection of descendants of Judge George Patton.
Nearly six decades later, the descendants of Bryant Patton, and his first wife Edith Montgomery Patton and his second wife Mary Weaver Patton, united in Apalachicola.
Honored at the table of Half Shell Dockside was the matriarch of the family, Lois Patton Olzawski, the youngest of the three Oklahoma sisters who used to send her half-brother presents every year.
Now 95 and living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Olzawski was on hand with her daughter and son-in-law Vicki and Gary Robinson, of Conroe, Texas, to mark their golden anniversary on Aug. 26, a key reason why the family all gathered in Apalachicola.
The Robinsons were joined by son Sterling and daughter-in-law Christianne Robinson, of Houston Texas.
Also there was Vicki’s sister, Susan Barrett, also of Tulsa, her daughter and son-in-law Jamie and David Rogers, from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and her granddaughter Richelle Rogers.
Rounding out the family circle was cousin Carolyn Martina, who shares a maternal grandmother with Lois Olzawski.
The story of Bryant Patton, whose name graces the bridge to St. George Island, the third longest bridge in the state, begins in October 1896, in Apalachicola, when he was born to the local judge and went on to serve with the Navy as a chief machinist’s mate in World War I, and later as a captain in the Oklahoma National Guard. He would become a state commander of the American Legion as he worked to help form the national organization.
Patton sold life insurance in the 1920s, and worked as a broker for oil leases before becoming an oil company executive in Oklahoma. It was here he first became involved in politics, working for the state’s 10th governor, E.W. Marland.
He and his wife, the former Edith Montgomery, had married in Apalachicola and were raising three daughters in Oklahoma. But divorce would break up the family, and Patton would go on to marry his secretary, and move back to Apalachicola in 1938, at the age of 42.
It was here he formed a partnership in the cattle ranch and saw mill businesses in Apalachicola between 1941 and 1943. In 1944, he started his seafood business, the Apalachicola Fish and Oyster Company, which he operated until 1951. During the 1940s, Patton became instrumental in introducing flights to distribute his seafood, and hired a photographer to take promotional photos of his growing seafood business.
He served in the Florida House of Representatives from Apalachicola for three terms in 1949, 1951, and 1953, during which he worked to obtain the Sikes Channel through St. George Island and Eastpoint Channel from the federal government and passed legislation authorizing county commissioners to build bridges to islands. Patton helped persuade the Florida Park Service to adopt the Gorrie Museum project.
When Jim Patton was just 6, his father died on July 30, 1954, while serving his third term. His wife, Mary Patton succeeded her husband and served two terms. She later sold real estate in Franklin County until her death in 1987.
The St. George Island Bridge was named for him in 1965. A new bridge was built and completed in 2004, and re-dedicated in his honor.