He grew up as part of a poor family in town and lived in what he calls “poor folks rental houses.” He bounced from school to school and went to three high schools – Austin-East, Halls and finally Fulton. He is the Rev. Mike Patty, who says that he’s “country as cornbread.”
You may not think of Patty as one of “Our Town Heroes” – but he’s a hero of a different sort. As someone down at the Knoxville Police Department says: “He’s not one of us officially, but he’s part of all of us. We all love him.”
Patty, 65, is a Baptist minister and one of 33 chaplains who serve the men and women of the KPD. November will mark his 19th year. On the fourth Saturday of every month you will find him working his 24-hour shift – 8 a.m. to 8 a.m. After his “job” ends on Sunday morning, he and his wife of 45 years, Kathy, head from their Corryton home for Callahan Road Baptist Church, where he serves as Men’s Ministry Pastor.
He has another job, too. Since 1978 he has worked for one company and one family – Stowers Machinery Corp. That’s 41 years. He is a service coordinator in its truck division. “If it’s a big rig or any truck with a CAT (Caterpillar) engine, we work on it,” Patty says. “It’s a great company, and I could not have spent my life working for a better family. The Stowers mean a lot to me and to our community. Classy people.”
And the KPD means a lot to him. His older brother, Charles, was a KPD captain in the 1990s. “I never understood why my brother lived and breathed the police department. He never talked much about what he did, but he loved it,” Patty remembers. “Since I became a chaplain I have come to realize why he felt that way. This is an incredible group of people here. This department has the finest law enforcement officers and families you’ll ever come across. I spend a lot of time with these guys and gals.”
If requested, chaplains will go to crime scenes if a death is involved; to suicides and to vehicle accidents when a fatality happens. If he’s asked to respond, he responds. He and the officers as a team go to break the news to next of kin when a death occurs. “Anytime you deliver bad news to anyone it’s an absolute tragedy. But it’s a calling of a chaplain’s life,” he says. “Somewhere in that tragedy you want to be a ray of hope.”
He recites a saying chaplains have: “When it comes to a police chaplain, you are a minister of presence.”
If an officer has a tough time, Patty is there to listen, talk, cry and pray. If the call involves firefighters and EMS personnel, he is available to them as well. He also is there for victims and their families and often refers them to support groups.
The Rev. Pam Neal has been the KPD’s chaplain coordinator for 12 years and a police chaplain for 21. She is a minister at First Baptist Church of Knoxville. “Mike is an outstanding chaplain and has done an outstanding job of ministering to our police officers and the community both,” she says. “Mike stands out because of the special relationships he has built with the officers. Through his dedication to doing ride-alongs and being there for the officers during the difficult times, they have grown to love and respect him as well. Mike is called upon more than any other chaplain for the personal needs of the officers. He has conducted more marriage ceremonies than any other chaplain. They love Mike and know they can depend on him. That is why he is one of the very best.”
Through the years he has officiated at the marriages of 35 KPD officers. He has held their babies and been to many birthday parties. He preached his brother’s funeral and has preached and assisted with the services of officers’ family members. His working “off” hours exceed his “on duty” ones.
This ex-Marine (1972-74) and wife Kathy, a pharmacy technician at Tennova North, have two daughters and five grandchildren. The grands are between the ages of 23 and 8 years old. “I’m engrossed in our family and the grandkids. I love it when they’re all at the house,” he says.
What does he do to relax? “Anytime I’m in a police car with my buddies, I’m relaxed,” he says.
He joined the staff at Callahan Road Baptist in 2014. Through the years he has worked at three other churches – Hilltop Baptist in Strawberry Plains, Lea Springs Baptist in Blaine and New Blackwell Baptist in Grainger County.
In 2000 he was in a church office waiting for a wedding to begin. “I picked up part of a newspaper and saw an ad from the Knoxville Police Department looking for police chaplains,” he says. “So I got an application, filled it in and eventually attended Chaplain’s Academy. On Nov. 17, 2000 (the day after graduating from the academy), I did my first ride-along with an officer, and it was one of the most memorable things I’ve ever done.”
The academy includes courses on things like what to do and not do at crime scenes; stress management; response to a crisis; suicides; sensitivity and diversity; and funeral protocols, to name a few.
There’s little doubt that the men and women of the KPD need Patty and his ministry. But about three years ago he needed them. On Nov. 21, 2016, he had open-heart surgery at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center to correct 12 blockages. He ended up with four bypasses. He was in the hospital for nine days and spent 56 days away from work. “On the day after surgery a KPD officer showed up at Fort Sanders to check in on me, and that happened every day I was there,” he recalled. “It was so special, and their ministry helped my healing process. During my entire rehab time, I got a personal visit, a phone call or texts checking on me every day without fail.”
Patty says there are three things he knows about his life. “First, I’m saved through Christ our Lord. God called me to preach, and he called me to be a police chaplain,” he said. “Not once have I ever doubted these three things.”
Editor’s Note: This is part of a weekly series – Our Town Heroes – highlighting Knoxville’s emergency-service professionals. Watch for this feature every Monday on KnoxTNToday, and if you have suggestions about a first responder/emergency-services professional we need to feature, please email Tom Kingor call him at (865) 659-3562. King has served at newspapers in Tennessee, Texas and California throughout his adult life. He started writing for KnoxTNToday in 2017.