Oliver L. Patrell
April 5, 1927 – June 10, 2019
1927-2019 Oliver L. Patrell—“Ollie” to his family and friends—died Monday, June 10, 2019, at his residence, Maplewood at Stony Hill, in Bethel, CT. He was 92. Ollie was a devoted husband to his wife of 65 years, Catherine Frances (Dolan) Patrell; a father of five; and a self-made man who achieved great business success in the US insurance industry while never losing touch with his lower-middle class roots. He had 13 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren.
Ollie was born in 1927 to Oliver L. Patrell, Jr., and Mary Agnes (Doyle) Patrell, in Springfield, MA. He leaves one sister, Carol Ann LaMothe, of Springfield, MA; he lost his brother, Donald M. Patrell, and younger sister, Denise K. Shea, to cancer decades ago.
Ollie’s grandfather founded Patrell’s Bakery, which served many devoted and loyal customers in Springfield until it closed in 1966. Ollie would often recall how grateful he was that his family always had food to eat throughout the Great Depression—a formative experience for him. Ollie’s hours spent working in the bakery as a child served him well in World II; he enlisted in the Navy after graduating from Classical High School and served as a Ship’s Baker. Following his military service Ollie attended Brown University on the GI Bill, earning a BA in Economics with a minor concentration in Philosophy. He swam backstroke on the Brown University Varsity Swim Team. He worked full-time to put himself through college, coaching a girls’ high school swim team, waiting tables, and washing dishes.
After graduating Brown, Ollie attended Officer Candidate School and served in the US Coast Guard during the Korean War to complete his military service. He remained in the Coast Guard Reserves until 1987, rising to the rank of commander.
In 1950 Ollie married Catherine Frances Dolan (Kay) of Providence, RI, and began his business career at Aetna Life and Casualty as a Field Representative. Over the next 12 years Ollie and Kay built their family, bringing into the world Mary-Ellen (Mel) in 1952, Kathy in 1953, Christopher in 1955, Michael in 1956, and Margaret in 1961. They lived in West Hartford from 1960 to 1968 and Fairfield from 1968 to 1972--busy years full of childcare, First Holy Communions, Field Days, Little League games, Marketing Department meetings, promotions sought and, sometimes, received. Ollie and Kay, looking ahead to retirement, moved down to the shore, first to Niantic and then to their beloved Old Lyme. Anywhere they lived, they would throw a big party every year for all their friends—70 people or more--on January 1 in the afternoon, with many homemade delicacies and milk punch for anyone who might have overindulged on New Year’s Eve.
He always wanted to climb the corporate ladder a bit faster, with the goal of putting all his five kids through college. Finally, in 1981, he retired from the Aetna after 33 years and joined Baldwin United, a corporate conglomerate with several struggling insurance companies. Heading up their Insurance Division gave him many more entrepreneurial opportunities. Ollie and Kay moved to a corporate apartment in midtown Manhattan while remaining Old Lyme residents.
Ollie proved very effective at turning around poorly performing insurance operations, including Empire Mutual of New York and Colonial Penn. As CEO of Empire he was honored as a humanitarian by St. Vincent’s, Lubavitch CHABAD, and the National Conference of Christians and Jews, among other charities. When Leucadia Corporation acquired Baldwin, Ollie took over all of Leucadia’s insurance operations. He and Kay bounced from home to home, completing his numerous assignments around the country, acquiring a vacation home in Point Brittany, St. Petersburg, Florida, and moving from the Upper East Side of Manhattan to West Chester, Pennsylvania, to take over as CEO of Colonial Penn. Oliver evaluated many potential acquisitions for Leucadia—one of them requiring working in Buenos Aires and negotiating in Spanish.
Throughout his working life, Ollie was very civic-minded. He served as President of the Boys and Girls Club of Hartford and was a Life Trustee; he always felt the Boys Club in Springfield had been crucial in his own upbringing. He endowed a coaching chair at Brown University to support their swimming program. He was elected to the Finance Board of the Town of Old Lyme. He was also on the boards of Easter Seals and the Fairfield University School of Business. A devoted Catholic all his life, Ollie was a member of the Knights of Malta. He was active in Christ the King Church and was a major contributor to the capital campaign to build a larger building as the church expanded.
When he turned 70, Ollie retired and moved with Kay to their vacation home in St. Petersburg, maintaining their home in Old Lyme for holiday visits with Connecticut family and friends. Ollie flourished in retirement. He served on the condo board and in the men’s club, performing in variety shows and singing old songs, and running the complex’s annual Spaghetti Dinner. He took lengthy cycle trips with fellow retirees along the Gulf Coast, traveled to Europe and the Caribbean with Kay, bought and sold boat after boat after boat, vacationed with his kids and grandkids in the Outer Banks, golfed frequently with his sons Chris and Mike and his friends, and was elected Point Brittany’s Man of the Year. He loved to bake bread, pies, and cookies. Ollie’s sourdough bread was so prized, hostesses insisted that he bring it when they invited him to dinner. And he always brought homemade cookies for his golfing buddies at Point Brittany. Ollie had a wonderful sense of humor and was a great joke teller and story teller, cracking up family and friends around the table after dinner.
In time, as they needed to be closer to family, Ollie and Kay returned to their beloved Old Lyme. After Kay died in 2016, Ollie moved to Maplewood at Stony Hill, an assisted living facility in Bethel, CT. Ollie’s family is grateful to the many caregivers and medical professionals who took care of him during the last part of his life. In particular, they would like to thank the Maplewood staff and the RVNA Hospice team, and especially Ollie’s caregivers, Aaron and Millie, for their unswerving support and compassion during this difficult time.
Mr. Patrell is predeceased by his beloved wife Kay and is survived by his five children and their spouses: Ms. Mel Patrell Furman (Boris Furman) of Evanston, IL; Kathleen (David) Goulet of Watertown, CT; Christopher (Sue) Patrell of Cheshire, CT; Michael (Liz) Patrell of Wallingford, CT; and Meg (Mike) Bendzinski of Hebron, CT. He is also survived by 13 grandchildren and their spouses: Noah, Ezra (Rosie Wagner), Emma, and Jonah; Jonathan (Lauren), Daniel, and Matthew Goulet; Jessica (Phill) Katz and Jackie and Catherine Patrell; Patrick Patrell; and David and Christine Bendzinski. Ollie was also great-grandfather to Amos Furman; Clara and Lincoln Goulet; and Max, Gregory, and RJ Katz.
Donations in memory of Oliver Patrell can be made to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hartford, 170 Sigourney Street, Hartford CT 06105. Attention: Matt Broderick.
Calling hours will be on Friday, June 14, 2019, from 4 until 7 PM at Fulton-Theroux Funeral Home, 13 Beckwith Lane, Old Lyme. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Saturday, June 15, 2019, at 9:30 AM at Christ the King Church, 1 McCurdy Road, Old Lyme. Interment will follow in Duck River Cemetery, 3 Bittersweet Lane, Old Lyme.
- Calling Hours Friday, June 14, 2019
- Mass of Christian Burial Saturday, June 15, 2019
- Burial Saturday, June 15, 2019