Donald F. Patterson was born in Venezuela when his father was working for Shell Oil in the early 1930's. He lived in Venezuela for two short periods of his childhood and spent the rest of his formative years in Oklahoma and Texas. Don attended Oklahoma State Veterinary School in the fourth veterinary class to graduate from that institution in 1954. After veterinary school he applied for an internship at Angell Memorial and counted his acceptance into that program as one of the most important events in his professional career. After Angell, Don completed a tour of duty in the Air Force where he was assigned Chief of Laboratory Services, Aero-Medical Field Laboratory at Holloman Air Force Base. As a veterinary researcher he was in charge of obtaining young chimps from West Africa and training them as research subjects. One of these charges, named Ham, was the first chimp to complete a suborbital space flight in 1961.
After his tour in the Air Force Dr. Patterson took a position at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine as an instructor in cardiology where he helped conduct the first NIH-supported research to identify and characterize genetic defects in cardiac development in the dog. In 1965 Don became the first Chief of the Section of Clinical Cardiology and in 1966 was the founder of the Penn Medical Genetics Clinic, the first of its kind in a veterinary school. In 1971 he became the Founder and Chief of the first academic subdivision devoted to Medical Genetics in a school of veterinary medicine. From 1985 to 2000 Don was Principal Investigator at the University of Pennsylvania for the Veterinary School Referral Center for Animal Models of Human Genetic Disease and in 1995 became Founder and Director of the Center for Research in Comparative Medical Genetics, both the first such NIH-supported centers at a veterinary school.
Dr. Patterson retired in 2000 after 42 years on the faculty at Penn Vet School and was in the process of writing a book on canine genetics when, sadly, he developed symptoms of dementia. He currently resides in an Adult Family Home in Seattle, near his son who is also a veterinarian.