Community mourns loss of Patty Pilgrim
Local philanthropist and Pilgrim family matriarch Patty Pilgrim died Thursday, Oct. 11 at the age of 80.
Visitation with the Pilgrim family was held Saturday, Oct. 13 at First Baptist Church followed by a graveside service at Rose Hill Cemetery in Pittsburg.
Friends and family and the Pittsburg community mourned her loss but took comfort in the thought of her joining her husband, Lonnie Bo Pilgrim, who died July 21, 2017, in Heaven.
They shared condolences and spoke about her generous spirit, her faith, her devotion to family and her husband and her outspoken personality. Such sentiments echoed across the city and news of her passing prompted stories of the legacy she leaves behind.
Two of her closest friends were Steve and Donna Packer. Steve Packer, who retired from FBC Pittsburg in April 2017, was Patty and Bo Pilgrim’s pastor for 23 years. He shared with The Gazette that he remembers her five characteristics: artistic, advisor, able, adored and anchored.
Artistic because of her gifts as a seamstress, artist, and decorator.
“She was a very accomplished painter and artist. One of the keepsakes we’ve had through the years is a painting that Patty gave Donna and me,” Packer shared with The Gazette.
Advisor because she was a counselor to many in her church and especially to her husband.
“We laughed a lot about Bo’s stubbornness over the years, but he listened to Patty. We said that often and Patty often said that. She was his sounding board. He gave his ear to her, and she would tell him what she thought, too,” Packer said.
Able, because she was strong.
“She endured cancer and had a lot of health issues, especially in the last few years, but, she pulled through. She was beautiful, a consummate companion in her strength to her family and Bo,” Packer said.
Adored because she was loved by her children and grandchildren, her friends, her husband. Packer recalled a fond memory of 50th wedding anniversary when they renewed their vows in front of their children and grandchildren.
“It was very beautiful. They wanted to set that strength for the family and let them know they were faithful in their vows,” he said.
He also shared with a hearty chuckle that whenever a groom asks him what he owes him, he tells them, “Pay me what she’s worth.”
“Bo gave me the largest check I’ve ever received for doing that, and I told Patty he was the first man that ever paid me ‘what she’s worth.’”
And finally, anchored in the word of God and faithful to her church and her Bible class.
“She loved the Bible, and she was anchored in Christ. She was so concerned that all of the family were Baptized, that all of her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren would know Christ and be believers and that she would see them in Heaven,” Packer said.
Packer, 71, who was diagnosed with melanoma, underwent treatment and has had several facial surgeries, not only pastored Patty Pilgrim during her recent dark times but received comfort and words of encouragement from her during his health scare.
“She was so attentive to me and so concerned about my health over the last year. Patty has always been so kind to us,” he said. “She loved me as her pastor. She adored me, and I don’t know what I did to deserve that.”
Donna Packer described her as being highly-honored and highly-favored because she was such a dignified woman, and at the same time, she was very down-to-earth.
‘We would have coffee and talk about our grandkids, our children and what was going on. I’ve always been a cutup. I teased Bo and cut up with him and with Patty, and she’d always say, ‘Are you behaving yourself?’” Donna Packer said.
She also recalled a time early in their friendship when Patty Pilgrim graciously opened her closet filled with beautiful clothes, many that she had hand-sewn herself, to her and told her to pick out a dress to wear to her daughter’s wedding.
“I felt like I could go over there anytime. They were both very giving, very generous,” she said. “She was a delight in my life.”
Linda Oquinn, one of Patty Pilgrim’s oldest friends, said their children grew up together and she and her husband, Neal, shared weekly dinner dates with Patty and Bo Pilgrim. They also traveled together and shared the same wedding anniversary, celebrating together whenever they could.
Oquinn recalled her friend’s generosity and her artistic talents with a paintbrush and a potato masher.
“She had such a strong passion for painting. She loved to paint and always looked forward to that. She was a perfectionist in anything she did, whether it was sewing, cooking, china painting or her other paintings. She just thought that if it was worth doing, it was worth doing the very best you could do,” Oquinn said. “She liked to travel, she liked antiques and good food, and she made the best mashed potatoes. They were wonderful. I just loved her, and I will miss her.”
Ken Pilgrim talked about his mother’s guiding hand, one that supported him and his siblings and their father.
“My mom was a stay-at-home mom, which is one of the toughest jobs there is, especially when she was married to a workaholic and an entrepreneur,” he said.
Bo Pilgrim, the founder of Pilgrim’s Pride, was in the air or on the road traveling for business a lot and she was the anchor at home raising their family. She was a private person, and while she didn’t love the spotlight, she was right there by his side through all the ups and downs of building a business empire.
“We came home after school, and our mom was there, and she was just real solid. She was very opinionated, very blunt about what she thought you should do. As kids, we didn’t wonder where she stood on anything,” Ken Pilgrim said. “She was a big part of my Daddy being able to do some of what he did. Had he not had her, he wouldn’t have been able to do some of the things he got done through the years."
He remembers playing on Milligan Drive behind their house as a kid and her signal that it was time to come in.
“I can still hear her Buick in the garage when it was time for us to come home. She’d honk that horn, and I knew it was time get home as quick as you can,” he said.
She was a beautiful woman and always conscious of her appearance, her son said, no matter whether she was at her home, in town chatting with her close-knit group of friends over coffee at Fay’s Fabric Shop – a favored gathering spot for the accomplished seamstress – or attending an elegant function on the arm of her husband.
“She was very attractive, and she liked to get her hair fixed. She liked her nails done, and even the week before she passed away, she was very conscious of her appearance,” Ken Pilgrim said. That awareness was not only for herself, however.
“The Sunday before she passed away, I thought it was comical in that I put on a t-shirt and blue jeans and went to the hospital to pick her up to bring her home, but the doctor told her that she needed to stay a day or two more. So, I told her, ‘Well, I’m going to go to church then,’ and boy, she almost sat straight up in the bed and looked me from head to toe and said, ‘You’re not going in that, are you?’ And I said, ‘No, ma’am. I’m going to go change.’ So, she kept us in line,” he said, smiling about the recent memory.
He talked about her giving spirit, her willingness to help people in need and doing so without fanfare.
“She came from a modest upbringing herself. Her dad was a worker at the steel mill and in the ammunition plant during the war. She had a lot of his personality,” Ken Pilgrim said. “She was good about giving quietly. Those names on buildings, her name is on there because my dad put it on there. He was a different personality, just the opposite of her. There was an unspoken support system there, and she was behind it.”
With his sister, Greta Henson, and brother, Patrick Pilgrim, living and working in other cities, the responsibility to care for their mother fell to him, a role he gladly accepted. He said they are all feeling a void this week.
“We’re holding up OK. It’s a hole. We know she’s with my Dad and that’s comforting knowing that, and to watch her suffer the last few weeks, there’s comfort in knowing that’s all behind her,” said Ken Pilgrim, who was very close to his mother.
“Outside of my wife, I probably lost my best friend in life. I could talk to my mother about literally anything. She didn’t always agree with me, but she allowed me to have my opinion. She was always one you could talk to, her door was always open for us as kids, and she loved her grandkids very much,” he said.