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Dazon Farris remembers the chats. Farris would head to the room where Greg Patton taught criminal justice at Bloomington, knowing Patton had a free period.

Farris had no illusions of it being a one-on-one conversation.

“There would be 15, 20 kids in there talking to him,” Farris said. “He impacted everyone. Everyone knew GP at the school.”

That’s how Bloomington High School and, really, much of Bloomington-Normal knew Patton. He was “GP.”

And a whole lot more.

Patton, a 1972 Stephen Decatur graduate, was a mix of tough and tender. His stern exterior masked a caring, loving heart that never ran out of room for those “15, 20 kids” and so many more like them.

They’re all hurting now. Patton, 63, died unexpectedly Friday, leaving a void that cannot be measured, only felt.

Farris feels it as much as anyone. He and his brother, Patrick Fisher, met Patton through basketball at Bloomington’s Western Avenue Community Center. Farris was six years old, Fisher five.

They quickly got past Patton’s imposing stature and found a friend, mentor and father figure. While his life has ended — “A huge shock,” Farris said — theirs go on with Patton’s words in their ears.

Mostly, they’ll hear this:

“Do what you love and take care of the people that you love,” Farris said.

“Take care of what you have and who you love,” Fisher said.

We know Farris and Fisher as key members of the Bloomington basketball team, Farris graduating in 2017 and his brother this year. Both are playing college basketball, Farris at Lake Land College in Mattoon and Fisher will be a freshman at Gavilan College in Gilroy, Calif.

They are there largely because of Patton, a Bloomington assistant basketball and baseball coach who commanded respect but also doled it out. Farris repeatedly saw him reach out to students “he wasn’t even that close to.”

“If they needed him, he was there for them,” Farris said. “He was more than a teacher, more than a coach. Me and Patrick … I can’t count the things he did for us personally and for our family.”

Nor can Fisher, though one of Patton’s gifts to him stands out. It serves him on and off the court.

“He gave me confidence,” Fisher said. “There were times that I didn’t have much belief in myself. He pushed me. I’d never really had a man in my life. He built me up to be a man.”

Patton did a lot of that. He also helped girls grow into strong, confident young women. Gender didn’t matter to him. People did.

He was an equal opportunity source of love and support.

“He wasn’t a critic. He was a motivator and an encourager,” Bloomington head basketball coach Micheal Mosley said. “If you didn’t know him, you’d probably think something else. But the kids loved him. He basically pushed the right buttons to get the most out of them.”

Mosley entrusted Patton to lead all of Bloomington's offseason and summer conditioning and weight training. Purple Raider players had known Patton before they ever got to high school or met Mosley.

He was the deep voice that told players when it was time to run.

“Get on the baseline!” Fisher recalled.

He also was the sounding board when they needed to share or confide.

“You could talk to him,” Fisher said. “He would say, ‘My door is always open to you.’ He was just a good person. He had the biggest heart.”

Patton brought it to Bloomington-Normal in 1972 as an Illinois State baseball recruit out of Stephen Decatur. He earned a degree in criminal justice from ISU, working as Leisure Time Service Specialist at Pontiac Correctional Center and retiring from the Dwight Correctional Facility.

He then worked at the Western Avenue Community Center, serving as a coach and mentor through basketball, golf, baseball, you name it. He helped develop the Survival Program for Youth (SPY) and co-founded the Central Illinois Minority Golf Association.

Dodie Dunson Sr. was an eighth-grader when Patton arrived in the Twin Cities. While at ISU, Patton attended many of Dunson’s games at Bloomington and the two became friends.

“I’ve truly lost a friend of 45 years,” Dunson said. “It’s a huge loss for the community … just the impact he had on a lot of young men and young women. Some of the things Greg would do for families and kids, I don’t know if any people would duplicate that today. It totally went beyond any sport.”

Dunson said much of Patton’s assistance was financial and “out of his own pocket.”

“He wasn’t working for himself. He was working for the kids,” Dunson said. “He was working for the families. He was paying several of the kids’ cell phone bills and helping mothers with some of the rent … things like that.

“He was one of the best I’ve known.”

He was “GP.”

As in Great Person.

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Contact Randy Kindred at (309) 820-3402. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_kindred

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