Tom Patterson, founder of Canada’s Stratford Festival, died Feb. 23 in Toronto after a lengthy illness. He was 84.
The Festival will hold a memorial service celebrating Patterson’s life at the Festival Theater on Sunday, March 13.
After returning from WWII, Patterson was working as a journalist when he decided there should be a festival of Shakespearean plays in the small Canadian town.
Patterson was able to convince local residents and politicians to get on board and then was able to attract the confidence of theater pros such as director Tyrone Guthrie, who eventually agreed to be the Festival’s first artistic director and brought with him Alec Guinness and Irene Worth to star in the first season’s plays: “Richard III” and “All’s Well That Ends Well” in 1953.
After the initial year of the Festival, when Patterson served as General Manager, he founded the touring theatrical company Canadian Players with actor Douglas Campbell, and later became instrumental in a host of cultural innovations in Canada, including being Founding Director of the Canadian Theatre Centre; Founding President of the National Theatre School of Canada; and Founder of the Dawson City Gold Rush Festival. He worked in various capacities with the Stratford Festival until 1967, consulted to theater companies across North America and also worked in the film industry.
Due to health concerns, it was uncertain whether he would be able to attend the festival’s 50th season festivities in 2002. However, he managed to appear in front of the sold-out opening night crowd at “Richard III,” 50 seasons, to the date, of when that same play launched the Stratford Festival in 1953.
Patterson is survived by his wife, Pat, and four children.