Former Presiding Judge Jay Patterson, 80, of the 101st District Court in Dallas County, reflects on mortality and the importance of living for today.


I’ll soon be entering my 81st year. I turned 80 on May 5. What I am experiencing is of interest only to people aging as I am, but they already know most of these things. They just may not have thought about them. This will not be relevant to younger people. Just as I was, they are unable to understand and appreciate these things and won’t want to even think about them until they get older.

You can’t help but be conscious of elderly ailments and dying when you are in your 70s. You, your loved ones, and many of your friends are ailing or dying. Dying becomes just another part of life. Not so when you are younger. You cannot avoid it when you are older. It is all around you. Not the circle of life, more of a linear view of life as finite.

There is bad and good about all this. The bad is obvious. The good, not necessarily. It is easier when you are older to live for today and make the most of each day as people tell us we should do all along. Since the mortality rate is still 100%, it is really no big deal to die. It affects those who care about you more than it does you. And my children are doing a great job of following the Fifth Commandment.

I had a mild stroke in 2006 that affected my left side. It hasn’t really altered my life much, but recently I realized there could be another one, more serious, at any time. I may not live until the day after tomorrow. (This is not a strong risk. The doctors are not concerned. But it is a helpful state of mind for me.) Realization of this risk is not a bad thing. It motivates me to prepare for when I am gone. I tell the people I love that I love them. I try to live my life kindly, gently, considerately, unselfishly, generously for them so they will know that I truly do love them.

I make sure the memories that are important to me are written down so they don’t die with me. I’ve created a 61-page autobiography of my life and my family’s life during my lifetime, thanks to Bob Greene’s To Our Children’s Children: Preserving Family Histories for Generations to Come. It was more fun than I thought it would be. As I answered Greene’s questions, memories of events I hadn’t thought about for a long time came back to me in a rush. Great fun!

The photos and home movies that I would like to have future members of my family see are preserved for them. I’ve had them put into a digital format. I’ve even had the DVD disk of our family history put onto a flash drive to preserve it even longer. That preservation will not be important to me after I’m gone, but it may be to some present or future member of my family.

I didn’t realize how irritating it must have been for my seniors when I was young and naively expressed strong opinions, so sure of myself, until I now listen to young people do the same thing even when they are clearly wrong. They have the privilege of making their own mistakes.

I need to learn not to share advice or experience unless specifically asked for it (and I need to be able to distinguish between a real question seeking a response and a rhetorical question).

In our society it is hard to take each day a day at a time, savor it, and make the most of it. We are born to be planners. But in my 70s, having lost people dear to me, I am able to savor each day and value it. It comes more naturally. I cherish each day with the ones I love and want to be with them. I thank God for all of them. I try to become more and more like Christ so the ones I love will recognize the reality that I do love them with all my heart. May 5, we hosted my best friends in the world and their spouses for lunch and we invited all our family to join us at our house for lunch or, if they couldn’t make it, to join us on Zoom May 6.

“The days of our years are threescore and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”

—Psalm 90:10

Former State District Judge Jay Patterson began practicing law in 1970 after serving in the U.S. Navy during Vietnam. In 1978, he and five other lawyers formed the law firm Cowles, Sorrells, Patterson and Thompson. In 1994, Patterson was elected judge of the 101st District Court in Dallas County. He was presented with the Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas Equal Justice Award and the DAYL Foundation Award of Excellence in 2003. In 2007, Patterson began work to gain approval for creation of the UNT Dallas College of Law. A longtime advocate for legal aid in Texas, he received the Judge Merrill Hartman Pro Bono Judge Award from the State Bar of Texas in 2013.