As Cerner Corp. co-founder Neal Patterson neared death, he repeatedly said, “I have so much work to do.”
“Who’s going to do that work?” asked the Rev. Adam Hamilton Thursday at Patterson’s memorial service. “We are. … It’s our job.”
Several hundred people gathered at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection to hear remembrances of Patterson from his boyhood friend, John Williams, along with a homily by former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, who served for many years on the Cerner board.
“Our hope is to put an exclamation point at the end of a life well lived,” Hamilton said.
Williams, wearing a wheat decoration on his lapel, emphasized Patterson’s roots on an Oklahoma farm. That was where Patterson learned a lifelong work ethic from his father, who taught that “You make one more round after sunset.”
Interspersed with musical offerings and a slideshow peppered with “Nealisms,” Hamilton, Williams and Danforth returned to the sunset theme, noting that Patterson was able to spend his final night watching the sunset with his family.
Danforth described Patterson as a man of action, not words.
“Some urged him to be a man of words, the great statesman of the field” of health care information technology, Danforth said. “But Neal was reluctant. He contended he wasn’t good at expressing himself — and that was true. The problem was that his mind worked so quickly that his words couldn’t keep up with his thoughts.”
Danforth drew chuckles, noting that a colleague once said listening to Neal talk was like listening to a popcorn machine because of his staccato, half-sentence style of speaking.
Despite that, Danforth said, Patterson became a business titan whose vision directly affects 25,000 people working at Cerner and has carved new paths for the delivery of health care and information technology.
“He never quit, and even in the late days of his illness, he was pointing Cerner for the future,” Danforth said.
Making money and making earnings targets were important to him, Danforth said, “but didn’t rise to the level of a mission. Health care was broken, and it was his mission to fix it.”
A private burial was to be held after the public service.