SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: James ‘Sonny’ Patterson

Most of his friends and neighbors know James Patterson by his nickname “Sonny,” which his mother gave him as a child.
Most of his friends and neighbors know James Patterson by his nickname “Sonny,” which his mother gave him as a child.

James Patterson has lived much of his life on the highway, so it’s no surprise that he still finds reasons to hit the road.

As a resident of New Community Commons Senior, Patterson, who goes by his nickname “Sonny,” helps other residents by driving them in his 2005 Lexus to the bank, doctor’s appointments and wherever else they need to go. At the beginning of each month, Patterson’s schedule for providing rides starts at 6 a.m., according to Care Coordinator Doreatha Wertz.

“It doesn’t matter what you need, if he can do it, he’ll do it,” Wertz said. “He’s a good person. We love him,” she added.

Each spring, Patterson eagerly awaits for May to arrive so that he can pack up his fishing rods and two two-foot-long coolers and head up to Boston to catch porgies, sea bass and striped bass. His younger brother, Lee, treks up from Delaware to join Patterson for the journey that he said can net up to 200 fish on a good day.

“All my luck is up in Massachusetts,” Patterson said.

When he returns from his mid-May fishing trip, Patterson is known to share his catch with the residents and staff at 140 South Orange Ave. in Newark. Rosie Brown, a resident of the seventh floor where Patterson is a floor captain, said she has received fish from him many times. She likes porgies and said she prefers to either “fry or bake them.”

A resident of Commons Senior since 2008, Patterson said he worked as a truck driver for 20 years. Born and raised in Greensboro, N.C., Patterson started driving trucks after finishing high school. He learned to drive in the wide open countryside at the tender age of 13. Patterson said his father was also a truck driver. “I loved the highway and being on the road,” he said. “Once you get used to it, it’s just like a car.”

Patterson first got behind the wheel of a 48-foot-long freightliner but soon took over a 52-foot-long truck, which he used to crisscross the United States, hauling everything from vegetables to steel.

When the Virginia-based trucking company that Patterson worked for shut down, he moved to New Jersey where he has lived since 1982.

Patterson eagerly awaits May 14, which will signal the beginning of the fishing season. After returning from each trip, he meticulously cleans and oils his multiple rods and reels, replaces the lines as necessary, and stows them away with great care. Until he plans his next trip.

“That’s my hobby now,” he said with a grin.

Patterson, who is in his 60s and divorced, has two sons and two daughters from his past marriage.

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