Today at Berkeley Lab

Lab’s ‘Queen of Communications’ Pam Patterson Retires

Pam PattersonPam Patterson began her working life as a pre-teen picking fruit in the orchards of San Jose. After college she taught English at San Jose State, then served as a policy analyst for Lockheed Martin. In 1992, she came to Berkeley Lab to help lead various communications efforts, first in the Directorate, then in Public Affairs.

From the fields to the Hill, it’s been quite the career trajectory…one that ends in retirement on Jan. 15.

The caliber of her work is reflected in the numerous SPOT and five Outstanding Performance awards she received during her years at Berkeley Lab, honoring a broad range of projects.

And while the accolades are nice and much deserved, the respect, admiration, and friendships she developed among her colleagues are perhaps more emblematic of her many talents.

“What I will remember most about Pam is her enthusiasm, tenacity and smarts. When a project seized her imagination, she went at it full force, calling upon her many talents in the communication arts to finish it well and thoroughly,” said Public Affairs Director Jeff Miller. “She was also everyone’s friend, a mentor to many (including me), and an inspiration to all of us.” 

Though Patterson worked mostly behind the scenes, she had a tremendous impact on the Lab’s public image. Among the highlights of her tenure at the Lab…

• Developing the concept for the Lab’s iconic red, green and blue, ALS-on-the-hill, logo, used for many years on all the Lab’s print and web communications.

• Serving as senior editor of the Lab’s print publications, including Currents, The View, and the multiple-award-winning Research Review, which served as the Lab’s annual report.

• Co-creating and editing the Lab’s first electronic news distribution vehicle, “Today at Berkeley Lab,” first on video screens posted around the Lab, then via e-mail in 2003. Patterson laughingly recalls that upon launching the e-mail version, many staff were up in arms over this intrusion on their inboxes, a delivery method that is now de rigueur.

• Working on the team that developed UC’s bid to the Department of Energy to manage the Lab, which resulted in a successful extension of the contract. She received an Outstanding Performance Award for this work.

• Creating booths and exhibits that have represented the Lab at numerous scientific conferences around the country, including AAAS and ARPA-E.

• Turning the Building 50 lobby into a vibrant, interactive exhibit of both the Lab’s history and current research efforts, which numerous visitors view each year. She received a special award from the DOE Site Office for this work.

Patterson, along with web developer Phil Butler, received a special award from the DOE Site Office.

Patterson, along with web developer Phil Butler, received a special award from the DOE Site Office.

• Leading the installation of the Webdam online photo archive, which houses thousands of key images that document the Lab’s inception, research milestones, major awards, and special events, that have taken place over the Lab’s 80-plus year history.

• Overseeing the complete revamp of the Lab’s website, including the homepage and underlying pages, Today at Berkeley Lab, and the News Center, in 2013. “Pam’s aesthetic and vision have shaped Berkeley Lab’s web presence into what it is today,” said Public Affairs web developer Phil Butler. “It’s clean, elegant and engaging.” 

• Helping to develop, as part of a team, concepts and scripts for Public Affairs video productions, including the Lab’s recent overview video.

• Serving as the oracle of Lab history, she uncovered facts and figures to help employees and members of the public better understand how Berkeley Lab evolved into a world-class research institution. She even received an acknowledgement in the recent book ‘Big Science’ by Michael Hiltzik, who thanked Patterson for her valuable input.

• And perhaps her crowning achievement, doggedly pursuing the return of Lawrence’s 11-inch cyclotron, which had been on loan to the London Science Museum for 75 years.

Patterson with the newly returned cyclotron.

Patterson with the newly returned cyclotron.

There have been some radical changes in communications during Patterson’s 23-year tenure, including the rise of the web, the advent of digital photography, the near demise of print, the explosion of social media, and the 24/7 news cycle to name just a few.

“But through it all one thing has remained constant — the genius of the work being accomplished here, the inextinguishable passion of scientific inquiry, and the commitment of those lucky enough to be a part of this extraordinary enterprise and its legacy,” said Patterson. “I leave a part of my heart here, and I hope a contribution, however small, to that legacy.”

She also leaves a legacy of camaraderie and encouragement for her fellow employees.

“Pam hired me in 2003 to take over the editing duties of Today at Berkeley Lab,” said Lyn Hunter. “Since that time, she has provided an amazing amount of support and mentorship, always looking for ways to help me leverage my talents and expand my professional horizons. And she did this for many others too.”

A lot of people around the Lab sought her sage advice on navigating the Lab’s bureaucracy, solving problems, and career development. Hunter — who works across the hall in the basement of Building 65 — used to joke that Patterson should install a couch in her office and charge a five cent counseling fee like Lucy in the Peanuts cartoon.

As well known as she was for her counseling skills, she was even more recognized for her sterling aesthetic.

“You can always find good writers and editors but how do you recruit for someone with immaculately good artistic taste?” said Lynn Yarris, the science writer who partnered with Patterson on multiple projects during their 23 years as co-workers at the Lab. “From the beautiful integration of displays and graphics in the Building 50 lobby, to the ever-changing kaleidoscope of images and information on the Lab’s homepage, to the myriad magazines, brochures, posters, and exhibits she produced, Pam spun communications straw into gold with an alchemist’s skill and a magician’s flair.”

In retirement, Patterson plans to continue producing the newsletter for the Bancroft Library’s Mark Twain project, which she has done on a volunteer basis for the last several years, sharpen her focus on water color painting, work on her cooking techniques, and self publish her recently completed novel.

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