What can this shipper-receiver do for you? Apparently, plenty

L.A. Cicero Tharman Patton

Tharman Patton is not prone to sudden emotional outbursts. When the shipper-receiver for the Electrical Engineering Department was initially told that he would be honored with an Amy Blue Award, he asked who nominated him. But after another question or two, he didn't say much more.

Then, over the next few nights he found himself too restless to sleep—the thought of the award was slowly sinking in. Finally, the week after he was first informed, congratulatory e-mails started coming in from staff throughout the department. And there he sat, at his desk in the quiet receiving room at the rear of the Packard Building, on the verge of tears.

"To be picked for an Amy Blue Award, this is kind of special," said Patton, who has worked at Stanford since 1972. "People actually care."

Not that his quiet kindness has gone unnoticed. Administrative staff in the department have taken him out to lunch, and he said there have been a few times when people have gotten emotional thanking him for one of the many minor miracles he has performed over the years. But the details are hazy because, again, he takes all that stuff in stride.

From unlocking doors and assembling furniture to overseeing the delivery of large lab equipment and rerouting mail with outdated addressees, all those deeds were praised repeatedly in the letters nominating Patton for the award. Joice DeBolt, administrative associate in the department's STAR Laboratory, wrote a letter on behalf of a dozen faculty and staff members that described Patton's thoughtfulness, thoroughness and his willingness to go the extra mile.

"We all know we can depend on him to call us if he thinks we may have overlooked something, or if there is something that doesn't look right to him," DeBolt wrote. "He is always trying to keep things on the right track. We are all spoiled by his level of initiative and follow-through."

When Patton first came to Stanford, he worked in the university's printing shop. A year later, he went to a department at Bonair Siding that delivered office and hospital supplies throughout campus. Then in 1978, he came over to Electrical Engineering (EE). Except for a brief layoff in 1995, which he rode out back at Bonair, he has since been a shipper-receiver with EE.

Patton grew up in East Palo Alto and still lives there today. He and his wife, Mamie, have been married for 35 years and raised seven children. Patton said he and his wife have "country names"—both of their families hailing from Arkansas. Patton's father was a landscaper and his mother was a homemaker. During his grade-school years, he spelled his first name "Therman" so that classmates in California wouldn't tease him by putting on a Southern twang—as in "Hey, Thaaarman!"

When he's not working here, Patton and his wife sell incense, scented oils and other aromatics. He said three stores in Redwood City and another three in East Palo Alto sell their incense, which they make at home.

His 79-year-old mother now lives in Elk Grove, and he drives up there frequently to fix up her home and yard. Even back in East Palo Alto, he does yard work for neighbors about four or five times a month. And just like at Stanford, Patton said the care that goes into those side jobs is more important than the time it takes to finish them.

"The yard needs more attention than getting in there and getting out," he said. "Like my father always said, 'Working hard makes a good man.'"