Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Patterson, Gerald Leighton (1895–1967)

by Virginia O'Farrell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Gerald Leighton Patterson (1895-1967), tennis player and businessman, was born on 17 December 1895 at Preston, Melbourne, son of Victorian-born parents Thomas Alexander Patterson, auctioneer, and his wife Isabella, née Mitchell. His mother was a sister of Dame Nellie Melba, who late in life considered Gerald to be 'her best friend'. Educated at Scotch College he excelled at tennis, winning the schoolboys singles championship in 1911 and 1913. His father often partnered him in country and local tournaments and (Sir) Norman Brookes, with whom his father played socially, coached him.

In 1914 Patterson came to the attention of the public when he won the Australian doubles title and was runner-up in the singles. World War I interrupted his career. Acting captain in the Royal Field Artillery, British Expeditionary Force, he was awarded the Military Cross in 1917 for bravery at Messines. Patterson played with the Australian Imperial Force's team in England and Paris and his stay in England culminated in his winning the Wimbledon singles title from Brookes in 1919 and, with Suzanne Lenglen, the mixed doubles title in 1920. With Brookes he also won the men's doubles in the United States championships of 1919.

On 3 April 1922 at Scots Church, Melbourne, Patterson married Ethel Ormé Manson Riggall. They had one daughter and a son Bill, who later became a well-known racing driver. In 1922 Patterson won the Wimbledon singles title for the second time. He represented and captained Australasia in the Davis Cup in 1919, 1920 and 1922, and Australia in 1924, 1925 and 1928. Victorian singles champion for eight of the nine years 1919-27, he was also Australian singles titleholder in 1927 and four times doubles champion in 1922-27.

Described as a 'big, handsome man with a magnificent physique', Patterson used 'bull-like' strength rather than touch to become one of Australia's first power players. In the 1925 Davis Cup match against France he knocked Jean Borotra unconscious with a powerful smash. His main weakness was his backhand which he hit with the same side of his racquet as for his forehand. He had a good match temperament which could, on rare occasions, be undermined by players such as his rival James Anderson. Patterson retired from tennis in 1928 but in 1946, weighing eighteen stone, (114 kg), led the Davis Cup team as non-playing captain.

Patterson was very much part of the wealthy Melbourne establishment; his parents and Melba had left him a large fortune which he used to expand his businesses and to live in luxury in Toorak. In 1940 he stood as United Australia Party candidate for the Federal seat of Corio. From the early 1920s he had been an agent for A. G. Spalding & Bros (Australasia) Pty Ltd, a sporting-goods company. By 1935 he was managing director. He was chairman of companies including Darley Firebrick Co. Pty Ltd, David Mitchell Estate Ltd and Bill Patterson Motors Pty Ltd, and director of others such as Colonial Gas Holdings Ltd, Riley Dodds (Aust) Ltd, Allied Meat Industries Ltd and Hawkes Bros Ltd, a hardware company partly owned by his old friend and doubles partner J. B. Hawkes. He was also Australian representative for the Empire Trust Co. of New York.

Survived by his wife and children, Patterson died in Mornington Hospital on 13 June 1967 and was cremated. Determined, courageous, at times impatient, he was a dominant force in Australian tennis for over a decade.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Brookes, Crowded Galleries (Melb, 1956)
  • M. Robertson (ed), The Encyclopedia of Tennis (New York, 1974)
  • G. Clerici, The Ultimate Tennis Book (Chicago, 1975)
  • A. Voss, Tilden and Tennis in the Twenties (New York, 1985)
  • Australasian, 6 Dec 1924
  • Australian, 14 June 1967
  • Age (Melbourne), 14 June 1967
  • Herald (Melbourne), 14 June 1967
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 10 Feb 1978
  • Daily Mirror, 30 Nov 1981
  • newsclippings, Herbert and Ivy Brookes papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Virginia O'Farrell, 'Patterson, Gerald Leighton (1895–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/patterson-gerald-leighton-7982/text13903, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 19 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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