PITTSFIELD, Maine — The word ‘enthusiasm’ is much too small a label to describe Gregg Patterson in the morning. Tsunami, a force to be reckoned with, ardor, passion — these all might be better.
Patterson never sits still. He never stops learning. He never stops exploring, and this was the message he brought to Pittsfield. “Life is neutral,” Patterson said Tuesday. “The way you see it is everything.”
As the latest speaker in the Maine Central Institute Patterson Lecture Series, Patterson’s talk early Tuesday morning was attended by former legislators, town councilors, school board members, local business leaders, and more than 500 students and faculty.
The turnout was not surprising.
After all, this was not just a speaker “from away” — this was one of their own.
An MCI graduate, Class of 1969, Patterson is now the manager of The Beach Club in Santa Monica, Calif., an author, a pilot, a marksman and an explorer. He underwrote the Patterson Lecture Series, which has brought a diverse group of guests to MCI, and, in his role as philanthropist, has donated thousands of dollars to MCI and the Pittsfield Public Library.
“Life can be entertaining,” he told the audience. “You just need the right attitude.” At his California club, Patterson bikes 13 miles to work each day. “I need to transfer that energy, that buzz, to my employees.”
Patterson said he never thought he would end up as a world traveler, an author or in a leadership role when he attended MCI, but he had a positive attitude and that made all the difference. “Every summer for eight years, I dug graves at the Pittsfield cemetery. And I loved it!” he said. “It gave me time to reflect.”
Reflection and keeping a positive attitude are keys to success, Patterson said, along with education, hard work and personal responsibility.
The Pittsfield native said that after graduation from MCI, he went to Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., then spent a year in London. He returned to Pittsfield, dug graves for a couple of weeks to get a “grubstake,” bought a $50 motorcycle and rode to California. “I knew no one, had nothing, but I was the happiest guy in the world,” he said.
He began his career journey as a security guard, became a busboy at the Bel-Air Country Club (“Because they fed me.”), was promoted to waiter, then captain, then wine steward and maitre d’. “I found that leadership is one of the most exciting things to do,” he said.
He was the manager of The Beach Club for 27 years, taught hotel management at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo for 14 years, and now travels the world, exploring, writing and lecturing.
Patterson shared a list of tools that he said each person needs on a life journey:
— Good health.
— People skills.
— Books and reading.
— Analytical skills.
— An enthusiasm for reflection.
“Surround yourself with stimulating people,” he told students. “Don’t spend 10 minutes with boring people because that is 10 minutes of your life you will never get back.” He told them to take risks and get out of their comfort zone.
Patterson said that during the first part of life, education is the most important goal. The second part of life is doing the work, and that in the final stage of life, you begin to reflect and give back.
“I discovered that giving back really feels good. Give back,” he told the students. “Give of your time, your treasure or your talent.”