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At age 16, while working in an Olean flower shop, James Patton drove a 1926 Dodge "huckster wagon" to Buffalo every day to pick up flowers from the big-city market.

The 120-mile round trip wasn't without its perils: One winter day at 4 a.m., he hit a cow stranded on a patch of ice in the middle of the road.

Within 30 years, Patton had risen to the top of the florist profession, heading the pre-eminent florist business in Buffalo that later earned him election to the Florists' Hall of Fame.

Patton, 85, the longtime owner of Hodge Florists on Delaware Avenue, died Saturday (March 18, 1995) in his home in Tucson, Ariz., where he moved after his retirement in the late 1980s.

A native of Lithuania, Patton moved to America with his family at age 4. He graduated from Olean High School at 16 but couldn't afford to attend St. Bonaventure University.

So he went to work for the flower shop for $2 a day, launching a career that would span 45 years and millions of flowers. He would often start his day at 3 a.m., to drive the wagon that was protected only by side curtains, holding a small oil stove keeping the flowers from freezing.

Patton later moved to Buffalo, where he was hired as an assistant in the flower shop named for its manager, William C. Hodge. After Hodge's death, as the business began to flounder, Patton bought controlling interest.

By 1973, when Patton sold Hodge Florists to a Florida chain, the company had became the largest-volume florist in the Northeast, with a retail business larger than any florist in New York City. At its height, the company employed 50 people in three stores and three separate divisions.

Patton was elected to the Florists' Hall of Fame in 1967 and was named to the American Academy of Florists, which recognizes florists of distinction.

After selling his business, Patton continued to manage buildings for his other company, Arn-Pat Realty, before his retirement in 1987.

Patton also was a community leader in Buffalo, serving as a director of the Buffalo Rotary Club, vice president of B'nai B'rith Montefiore Lodge, trustee of Temple Beth Zion, treasurer of the Montefiore Club, vice president of Westwood Country Club, director of the Main Street Business Association and president of the Buffalo Executive Club.

Surviving are his wife, the former Betty Sukernek; a son, David of Rochester; a daughter, Julie Currie of Philadelphia; a sister, Reva Shocket of Austin, Texas; and three grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Friday in Temple Beth Zion, 805 Delaware Ave.

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