Evangelist and Israel supporter Bebe Patten dies at 90

Bebe Patten, an Oakland-based evangelist and ardent supporter of Israel, died on Sunday, Jan. 25, after a long illness. She was 90.

The founder of Patten University, Patten Academy, Christian Cathedral and Christian Evangelical Churches of America Inc., Patten was born on Sept. 13, 1913. She arrived in the Bay Area in 1944. She led her Christian Cathedral congregation until June 2003 and served as chancellor of Patten University until her death.

Patten (née Harrison) was an outspoken supporter of Israel. She took her church congregation and students of Patten University on more than 25 trips to the Jewish state.

In 1975, she was named Christian Honoree of the Year by the San Francisco chapter of the Jewish National Fund, and she received several honors and awards from Israel, including the State of Israel Medallion in 1969.

She interviewed Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in 1972 and later Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir.

In 1975 and 1977, Patten University planted two forests of 10,000 trees in the Negev region of Israel. In 1981, Bar-Ilan University honored her with the Bebe Patten chair of social action and appointed her a member of the university’s international board in 1991.

In the Jewish community, she was known for encouraging her students at Patten Academy to learn Hebrew.

The students not only learned spoken Hebrew, but the school’s choir sang Israeli songs well enough that it was often invited to perform at Jewish fund-raising dinners, said Maryrose Black Ryan, chair of the Christian Committee for Israel.

Patten was also known for promoting racial equality in all the institutions she founded. Patten University was recognized as a “model of diversity.” She attended the funeral of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and personally offered her condolences to Coretta Scott King, his widow.

Patten’s husband, C. Thomas Patten, died in 1958, and two of her children predeceased her, Thomas Patten Jr. in 1989 and Priscilla Benham in 2000. She is survived by her daughter Rebecca Skaggs and one grandchild.

Donations can be sent to the Patten University Scholarship Fund, 2433 Coolidge Ave., Oakland, CA 94601.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."