First Lady of Kentucky, women's rights activist and advocate against domestic violence and sexual abuse
|Born||November 23, 1940 
Magoffin County, Kentucky
|Spouse(s)||Bill Harvey Johnson (divorced 1973); Paul E. Patton (married 1977)|
|Children||Bambi and Jan Harvey Johnson, Jr.; step-children, Nicky and Steve Patton|
|Parents||Esta and Roy Conway|
Mrs. Patton is a native of Pike County, Kentucky, and one of four daughters born to the late Roy and Esta Conway. Her father was murdered while serving as sheriff of Pike County and her mother served the remainder of his term. After completing her husband’s term and an unsuccessful run for the office, Mrs. Conway served as a social worker in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky while rearing her four daughters: Anna Ruth, Colleen, Judi and Nanci Roy. The First Lady of Kentucky credits her mother’s lifelong work with women and children as her inspiration for the work to which she devotes her life to today.
Roy Conway of Pike County, Kentucky was a businessman and former state legislator who had been elected as sheriff "on a platform to clean out bootleggers and stop corruption that spoiled the reputation of our beautiful mountain town,” wrote Judi in her essay in Home: The Blueprints of Our Lives. Conway was murdered in front of his family home on July 28, 1950, at the age of 44. Esta Conway was originally from the Craft and Wright families of Letcher County, Kentucky and attended Morehead State Teacher's College. Her mother’s strength and determination helped as she continued her husband’s work for the remainder of his term. Mrs. Conway was the first female sheriff in the town, but was defeated as she ran for a special election to complete her husband’s former term.
After her father’s death, the Conway family opened a small grocery store, where the children were “expected to help after school and on Saturdays … Mama [Mrs. Conway] offered credit to women and families who needed help.” Even after the grocery store closed down, due to lack of income, Judi’s mother did not attempt to collect from the families. Her mother, while completing college, would welcome women and families into their home in order to offer comfort for those in need. In a 2002 interview, Judi Patton described how important these actions were in rescuing women from terrible danger and creating meaningful connections among women in a small eastern Kentucky town: "Many times she would bring women and children home. Mama had this great networking system in Pikeville -- the women she got a job, the kids she put in school. ... Almost until Mama passed away, she was getting letters from women saying they would have been lost if she wasn't there to get them out. So, I thought, if I could do anything to make her proud of me, I would carry on her work." Esta Conway died on April 29, 1991, at the age of 78; she was an impressive component in shaping her daughter Judi’s activism.
After graduating from Pikeville College, Judi married coal operator Bill Harvey Johnson in 1965 and had two children, Bambi and Jan Harvey Johnson. Two grandchildren, William Chase Johnson and Jan Harvey Johnson Jr. Two years after they divorced in 1973, her husband was murdered.
In 1977, Judi Jane Conway wed Paul E. Patton who was also from Pike County, Kentucky. Both had been married once before, but found each other when Judi was working as a secretary at Kentucky Elkhorn Coal Mine owned by Paul Patton. She ran a garden and ladscaping business in Pike County, and was active in the Democratic Women's Club, the Pike County Junior Women's Club and chaired the Pike County Cancer Society. In 1984 she served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. Judi and Paul Patton both agreed with the principles and policies of the Democratic Party, which they carried with them through their political careers in Kentucky.
In December 1995, Judi and her husband Paul Patton (59th Governor of Kentucky) entered the Governor’s Office in Frankfort, Kentucky. Immediately, Judi focused on taboo topics such as child abuse and domestic violence.
In her early years, Judi was constantly at home with her mother caring for and nurturing the women her mother brought home to their eastern Kentucky home during the Appalachian War on Poverty. Patton exclaims that her mother inspired her for the work she has accomplished throughout her life. Once her husband took office in 1995, she began to focus of family violence. Mrs. Patton has accomplished many impressive feats during her later years as she fights against child abuse and family violence issues.
While in office in Frankfort, Kentucky, she pushed “20 bills that strengthened protections for children, domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, created policy standards for prosecuting perpetrators and expanded training initiatives from local law enforcement to judges, doctors and nurses.” In 1994 a federal Violence Against Women Act passed, and in 1996 Judi Patton received from Janet Reno the federal government's allotted grant funding for the Commonwealth to address the needs of domestic violence and sexual assault victims. Two years later, Vice-President Al Gore presented to First Lady Judi Patten a special "full faith and credit" grant of nearly $3 million from the STOP Violence Against Women program from the U.S. Department of Justice. Kentucky now has 11 advocacy centers in the state’s Area Development Districts due to Mrs. Patton’s work.
Patton’s work has truly impacted the state of Kentucky and she continues to fight for justice for women and children. Other leadership roles Mrs. Patton took on were:
- Helping create the Governor's Task Force on Sexual Assault, which proposed legislation creating and funding Rape Crisis Centers around the state, removing legal restrictions on marital rape victims, toughening sexual offender laws and creating victim protections.
- Backing legislation that created Family Courts in Kentucky.
- Promoting legislation that forced insurance companies to cover the cost of breast reconstruction and equalization for cancer patients.
- Becoming the first governor's wife to serve on the Kentucky Commission on Women.
- Hosting an annual reception for survivors of breast cancer and helping create the Kentucky Breast Cancer Coalition.
- Lobbying lawmakers to pass legislation addressing child abuse, rape, domestic violence and child support.”
The only bill with which Patton's powerful lobbying did not succeed was the criminalization of sexual assault between spouses. Marital rape was finally criminalized only after a decade-long campaign under the leadership of Jefferson County lawyer Bonnie Brown.
In 2002, the Kentucky Commission on Women hosted a conference to discuss a report on the Economic Status of Kentucky's Women. Governor Patton had formed a task force in November 2001 after a national survey ranked Kentucky as the third worst state for women. First Lady Judi Patton and former Governor Martha Layne Collins served as co-chairs of the task force and produced a report that evidenced Kentucky's failing rankings in health and nutrition, educational attainment, equity in pay and education, economic sufficiency and political and business leadership.
Awards and Honors
After completing her plethora of achievements, Mrs. Judi Patton began to receive awards for her incredible work. She received over twenty awards between 1996 and 2001. The awards she received are:
- 1996, awarded by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
- 1996, she received an Outstanding Legislative Advocacy award from the Kentucky Coalition against Rape and Sexual Assault.
- 1996, she received from the Kentucky Psychological Association the Kentucky Distinguished Citizen Award.
- 1996, received her second national recognition at the 11th National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect where she received a Commissioner’s Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- In 1996, the first Committed to Peace in Kentucky Homes Award was bestowed on the First Lady by the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association.
- In 1997, she received an Outstanding Leadership award from the Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ Association.
- In 1997, she received the first Outstanding Advocate Award from the Kentucky Council on Child Abuse.
- In 1997, she was honored by the Lexington YWCA with the Smith-Breckinridge Award for outstanding leadership in support of women and children.
- In 1997, she received the Distinguished Alumna Award, Pikeville High School.
- In 1998, she was honored by Board of Directors of Very Special Arts Kentucky for support of Arts Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities.
- In 1998, she received an award for Outstanding Service to Children from the Kentucky Council for Exceptional Children, Chapter 5.
- In 1998, she received the Junior Williamson Memorial Award presented by the Pike County Chamber of Commerce for her contributions to the community because of her long hours of dedicated and unselfish work as a citizen of Pike County.
- In 1999, she received the Friend of Kentucky’s Children Award from the Exploited Children’s Help Organization.
- In 1999, she was granted the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters (L.H.D.) from the board of directors of Pikeville College.
- In 1999, Children First honored her with a special award for her outstanding leadership in advocating for children. Children First recognizes each year one outstanding individual whose contributions to child victims of sexual abuse have demonstrated leadership, a strong commitment to advocacy on behalf of child victims, and whose dedication and tireless efforts have inspired others to greater service.
- In 2000, she received the Joy of Life Award from the Kentucky Cancer Program and the Brown Cancer Center for her contributions to breast cancer.
- In 2000, she received the Leadership Award from the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and BMW Ultimate Drive for the Cure.
- In 2000, she received an outstanding child advocate award from the Sunshine Center in Frankfort, Kentucky where also a children’s playroom was dedicated in her honor.
- In 2000, she received the Gold Medal Award from the Family Place in Louisville for her work on behalf of abused children.
- In 2000, she was given the annual Leadership Award bestowed by the Center for Women and Families in Louisville.
- In 2000, she again was honored by the Kentucky Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Association in recognition of the successful legislative package she championed before the 2000 Session of the Kentucky General Assembly.
- In 2001, the Barren River Area Child Advocacy Center honored her for her efforts on behalf of Kentucky’s children by establishing the Judi C. Patton Community Conference Hall in the newly constructed advocacy center.
- In 2001, she was presented the Key to the City by the Mayor Sandy Jones of Bowling Green who was joined by Warren County Judge Executive Mike Buchanon who presented a joint proclamation declaring January 12, 2001, as Children’s Advocacy Day in honor of the First Lady.
- In 2001, Judi's Place for Kids opened in Pikeville - a center named in her honor. Mrs. Patton is still on the Board of Directors of the Big Sandy Area Child Advocacy Center, founded in 1999 to serve the five eastern-most counties of Kentucky (Pike, Floyd, Johnson, Magoffin, Martin), in supporting and protecting child abuse survivors.
- In 2003, The Judi Conway Patton Endowed Chair of Study on Violence Against Women was established at the University of Kentucky Center for Research on Violence Against Women.
- 2010 Woman of Distinction at the Celebration of Service and Survival based Center for Women and Families
- Patton, Judi Conway. "Judi Patton," Home: The Blueprints of Our Lives, John Edwards, ed. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006), 122-23.
- [dead link]
- "Commonwealth of Ky. Web Server - Inauguration". E-archives.ky.gov. Retrieved 2012-08-04.
- Kay Harrod, “Judi Patton’s Work Applauded,” The State Journal (February 26, 2010). Accessed 4 December 2010. www.state-journal.com/news/article/4778327
- This list is from Patrick Crowley, “Judi Shows Grit, Grace” The Enquirer, (October 2, 2002). Accessed November 23, 2010. http://www.enquirer.com/editions/2002/10/02/loc_judi_shows_grit.html; and from "Judi Conway Patton: Biography- First Lady of the Commonwealth of Kentucky" (September 3, 2001) Commonwealth of Kentucky E-Archives. Accessed November 23, 2010. http://www.e-archives.ky.gov/_govpatton/_governor2002/KY%20First%20Lady's%20Office%20-%20Biography.htm
- "Lexington, KY local news provided by the Lexington Herald-Leader". Kentucky.com. Retrieved 2012-08-04.
- See the initial findings of 2001 and the final report of 2003 at the KCW website, http://women.ky.gov/ffp.htm.