He was quiet and kind, say the people who knew him, and now he’s gone. Patrick J. Dudley died Saturday night. He was 62.
Dudley will be remembered for many things. He, along with Ray Rogers, has been working for years to secure the necessary $35 million in funding to build the Praxis Center, a medical training facility that is expected to bring jobs to Butte, while improving rural healthcare. Largely because of Dudley, Montana Tech began offering the first bachelor’s degree in health care informatics in the United States in the early 2000s.
On top of his full-time job, Dudley was involved in Project Green, an advocacy group in town that sought in the 1990s to get the Greenway trail built to travel from Butte to Opportunity along Silver Bow Creek. That project is still underway. He was also instrumental with Restore Our Creek Coalition, another community group that has been advocating for a creek to flow from Texas Avenue to George Street, said Northey Tretheway, who volunteered alongside Dudley on local environmental causes.
What may become Dudley’s greatest legacy, the Praxis Center, is something he didn’t live long enough to see fully realized. But the seed for it was planted 20 years ago. It started with an ambitious project at Montana Tech.
“It was 1999 when Pat and I met at a career fair at Tech,” said Rogers Monday. “Pat came to me and said ‘I’ve got a crazy idea I want to talk to you about.’ That sparked a 20-year relationship between him and myself.”
From that initial spark the National Center of Health Care Informatics was born. Montana Tech launched a degree program and became the first in the nation to do so because of the center and Rogers' and Dudley’s work.
“He and Ray were on the cutting edge of health care informatics and they were really early on the learning curve, in front of everybody else,” Doug Abbott, Montana Tech vice chancellor for academic affairs, said. “Now a lot of schools have health care informatics, but we were the first school to have a bachelor’s degree and that was largely due to the national center.”
The basic concept of health care informatics is to improve storing and sharing patients’ health information among providers.
Unwilling to stop there, Dudley and Rogers, who knew each other as boys, decided in the late 2000s to start fundraising for the Praxis Center for Innovative Learning.
The training center is expected to bring 3,000 to 4,000 medical professionals to Butte each year to improve their skills. It will add 70 new jobs to the local work force and a complex to house it is expected to be built at corner of Park and Arizona streets.
“That Praxis project was a labor of love for Pat,” said Don Peoples Sr. “He put his heart and soul into that project. It is very critical to Butte and he was dedicated to making it happen. It’s symbolic of his commitment to the community.”
Peoples, who was the county’s chief executive in the 1980s, said he couldn’t remember a time when he didn’t know Dudley.
Inspiration is another word that came up repeatedly from those who knew Dudley best. Tretheway said he can still remember meeting Dudley when the two were teens. They weren’t doing anything special, just hanging out on Excelsior Street and it was more than 40 years ago.
“He stood out,” Tretheway said.
Often, Dudley worked behind the scenes. He was not one to seek limelight, say his friends and colleagues.
Tretheway said he “was doing the legwork to set up the financial structures” to make groups like Project Green and Restore Our Creek Coalition function.
Tretheway said there was one reason why Dudley volunteered his time and knowledge.
“He loved Butte,” Tretheway said. “He wanted Butte to have a fair shake on things. He wanted something better for the county.”
But Tretheway and Dudley, who met for coffee once a month, stayed off at least one topic when they got together — that was Butte Central and Butte High football.
Dudley played center and defensive end for Butte Central in 1972, 1973 and 1974 — years when Butte Central broke its own record by winning the state championship three consecutive years in a row, said Pat Prendergast, who played alongside him.
After graduating from Butte Central, Dudley went to Montana State University in Bozeman and got a degree in microbiology, said his son, Sean Dudley. Dudley later got a master’s degree in business administration through an online program.
After college Dudley went to work at St. James Healthcare as a medical technician. He moved into the human resources side of St. James, where he became a top administrator, and worked there for 35 years. Jay Doyle, St. James Healthcare president, said by email that Dudley was a “one-of-a-kind person.”
“Every member of the Butte community will miss him,” Doyle wrote. “We here at St. James would like to pass our condolences to his family. Pat Dudley was a valued and appreciated member of the St. James family for many years.”
Working full-time, having a family and volunteering additional hours to local groups were not enough for Dudley. Starting in 2011, he took up teaching a business ethics class at Montana Tech.
The pay for adjuncts is modest at best. It wasn’t the money that drove him, it was his passion for students, say officials with Tech.
Abbott said Dudley didn’t treat teaching his course like it was a part-time job, even though it was.
Both Abbott and Don Blackketter, Montana Tech chancellor, said the students loved him.
“He will be missed at Tech and in the community,” Blackketter said. “He was a very nice person and very capable.”
Dudley continued teaching after he was diagnosed with cancer and kept going even after he began treatment, Abbott said.
Rogers said Dudley stayed at the helm of trying to get the Praxis Center off the ground after his diagnosis a couple of years ago, as well.
But Rogers said Dudley’s life was not just the Praxis Center.
“That impact will be huge,” Rogers said. “Pat’s impact is really immeasurable.”
Prendergast said Dudley shared his outlook on dealing with cancer once he knew he was sick with the often fatal disease.
“He never saw it as a fight, he saw it as a journey. He always said he had too much to live for to succumb,” Prendergast said.
Sean Dudley emailed a message from the family.
“My dad was a man dedicated to family and community. He lived his life not from the sidelines but through action. He will live on in the organizations and causes he championed. He was loved and will be missed.”
He leaves behind his wife Margaret of 35 years and two children. In addition to Sean, the Dudleys had a daughter, Brianna.
Prendergast said Dudley “didn’t have a vengeful bone in his body.” He attributed it to Dudley’s faith and his commitment to family and the community.
“The bottom line is I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody kinder, more gentle, who thought more of others than himself,” Prendergast said. “He was always trying to reach out to others and make their lives better.”