By David Murphy, Red Cross volunteer
Brandi Patterson remembers watching her husband leave the house last April. AlTerek Patterson - a big man, full of life with an easy smile and a huge heart - had been struggling to breathe. “I woke up the kids and told them to tell daddy you’ll see him later.” After all, it had only been a few days since Terek, as he was known to friends and family, had called in sick to the Bedminister Police Department. He was a 14-year veteran of the department, first as a patrolman, then as a sergeant. “We found out on a Monday he wasn’t feeling well,” Police Chief Karl Rock remembers. “He got tested and it was confirmed that he had COVID on Wednesday. By that Friday, he was in the hospital. It was unbelievable how fast it happened.”
On Easter Sunday, AlTerek Patterson died of COVID-19-related complications, one of nearly 190 law enforcement officers who have died from the virus over the past year. But his wife, his fellow officers, his community and the Red Cross want to ensure that his memory isn’t forgotten. Blood drives that have been set up in his honor aren’t just opportunities to help those in need, but opportunities to remember what Terek was all about. “Every time they have it,” says Brandi, “they have so many people come out to help. It keeps Terek’s name out there.”
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Bedminster has just over 8,000 residents so it’s not hard to find people who knew Terek. “He was probably the most well-known officer in the police department,” says Chief Rock. “Even before his passing, you would run into someone and they’d ask how he was doing. He was a dynamic officer, always happy, always went the extra mile to help the community whenever possible.”
“I knew Terek was awesome,” his wife says. “We were together for 17 years and he always made me feel special.” Brandi remembers meeting Terek at Virginia State University in 2003 – naturally kind and unselfish, he was a hard worker but a man who always made time for his family. “He wanted the world for his family. He called his mother every single night. He wanted so much to take care of me and the kids and give us whatever he wanted.” Brandi and Terek were married in 2016. “He was worth the wait,” Brandi says. “So I waited.” The couple had three children: a daughter Nylah, who is 9, and twins, Sanaa and Santana, who are 3 years old.
Brandi knew early on that her husband wanted to serve others. “When he was in college, he always had his mind made up that when he came out, he would go into law enforcement, so as soon as he graduated, he signed up for the Somerset County Police Academy.” Chief Rock was Terek’s training officer after he was hired by the Bedminster Police Department in 2006. “Right off the bat, we knew he was all about community – he loved going out and talking to people.”
During his career, Terek received the Bedminster Lifesaving Medal three times. He also served on the Organized Crime and Narcotics Taskforce for the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office and received numerous letters of commendation and letters of appreciation from community residents. After Terek’s death, residents started reaching out to Brandi and her children directly. “I received and read so many cards,” she says. “I started crying at most of them because it was people that had an interaction with him and how they felt. It impacted my heart and I felt so much love from people I never met before. It’s almost a year since he passed, and I still get cards in the mail – they are still thinking about him. It’s unreal how his name is still out there.”
When Terek got sick, it was still early in the pandemic. His fellow officers were stunned. “When Sergeant Patterson became ill, we realized COVID was for real,” says Chief Rock. “It was a real eye-opening experience. COVID-19 basically hit our house.” After being hospitalized, Terek received convalescent plasma from someone who had recovered from the illness. Although it didn’t save his life, it showed his fellow officers a way to honor their fallen brother. Later that spring, they reached out to the Red Cross, then connected organization with township leaders. The partnership led to the first blood drive in honor of Sergeant Patterson, held last June. It was a huge success. “Every appointment was booked,” says the chief. “The community came out because they wanted to pay it forward, just as he would’ve done for anyone else. Every blood drive since then has had the Patterson name attached to it.” In fact, blood drives have been held regularly in Bedminster ever since, with another set for late January. Brandi, Chief Rock and several of Terek’s fellow officers are among those who have donated.