Jane Smith Patterson
Technology Executive, Activist
Jane Smith Patterson’s community activism began at a Greensboro movie theater in the early 1960s. Outraged when an African American friend was refused a ticket, the 17-year-old UNC-Greensboro student determined to spend her life working for equality.
Later, after transferring to UNC-Chapel Hill and graduating, Patterson began a career in state politics as Assistant Secretary and later Secretary of Administration in Gov. Jim Hunt’s cabinet.
During Hunt’s first term (1977-81), Patterson spearheaded development of the first coordinated information technology model. This was the beginning of Patterson’s efforts to link government, the economy and technology to better the lives of North Carolinians.
Patterson continued her technology drive during Hunt’s third and fourth terms (1993-2001), and, after he left office, as Director of the e-NC Authority, a public initiative to increase broadband access statewide.
Working with the public and private sectors, the E-NC Authority was able to increase the availability of connectivity to North Carolina households from 36% to 82% and bring in millions of dollars of federal funding for broadband infrastructure upgrades.
“Technology,” Patterson said, “is an equalizer.” Internet access has linked students in rural North Carolina to resources they need for classes previously unavailable to them. From research databases to easy personal communication with remote instructors, broadband has worked to bridge the rural-urban gap.
Patterson arduously campaigned to expand women’s rights and participation in government. Since her 20s, she has been involved in the national and state Women’s Political Caucus and crusaded for the Equal Rights Amendment.
Her work has opened up more government positions to women and minorities, in hopes of ensuring fair representation. Smith credits her father for instilling the value she places on equality.
Patterson still strives to ensure that institutions are open to all. The motivation, she says, is simple: “To create a fairer North Carolina.”