Robert Patterson used his engineering mind to an advantage and a winning streak, while, believe it or not, team riding wild mules in West Texas. “All the other teams used an impossible-to-remove girth cinch, but I had used a car seat belt to secure the saddle and it clicked off with ease.” After winning four times, the 21-year-old Monahans, Texas native got more than bragging rights at the Pecos Rodeo in 1977. A chance meeting with Susie Smith at the rodeo dance changed both of their lives.
By Cheryl Van Tuyl Jividen :: Photography by Mark Humphries
For six months, it was a long-distance relationship for 18-year-old Susie, a fourth generation native of Fort Stockton, and a long-haired Robert who was a Petroleum Engineering student at the University of Texas in Austin.
The couple, both grounded in faith, are thankful that Robert had the chance to meet Susie’s father, Wilson Smith, who passed away just six weeks after the couple met. “He always wanted to be a geologist, so we connected over that, and he looked past my appearance and accepted me. It was an opportunity to develop a brief but important relationship,” says Robert. Her father passed just days before she was to begin college. She was registered to attend Texas A&M University in College Station, and as her mother, Lorraine, was having to make funeral arrangements, it was Robert who stepped up to take Susie to college and got her settled in during a most difficult time in her life. They married a year later, and Susie transferred to UT where they both completed their degrees. Susie, who describes herself as a “super strong Christian,” recognized God’s abiding presence even back then, “Every major thing in my life was precipitated by God.”
Their careers began in Midland. Robert worked for several mid-sized oil companies over the years, including Texas Pacific and Parker & Parsley Petroleum, and received his professional engineering license. Susie worked for a bank and oil companies, all while attending the University of Texas Permian Basin earning a Master’s in Finance. With the savings and loan crisis of the era, Robert encouraged her to attend St. Mary’s University to pursue a law degree. That meant three years of commuting to see each other; even more challenging because Robert’s Midland-based job had him traveling throughout the U.S. Susie speaks with such pride of her husband’s character, “I remember sitting in the car at an oil field one visit, studying until he got off work. A well was blowing, and it looked like ants, all the men running to safety, away from the explosion, and there was Robert running toward it to save people. He saved lives. He’s poured his heart and soul into Petroleum Engineering.” She also credits him for her own path, “He inspired me to find my own career passion. I wanted to have that.”
After graduating in the top of her class, Susie became a civil attorney for the city of Boerne, then worked for the law firm Hollon, Marion and Richards, and Robert founded his own company, Canyon Oil & Gas. They worked hard and prioritized their careers, “We made a decision to do that, and waited 11 years before having children,” says Susie.
Eventually, Susie became the lead litigation prosecutor for the felony narcotics task force in the 216th District Attorney’s office, prosecuting cases in Fredericksburg, Boerne, Bandera and Kerrville. The work included overseeing 11 agents and undercover police operations, and extraordinary scenes like a nearly nine-month pregnant Susie outfitted in a flak jacket at a black tar heroin raid. Shortly after, she went into labor with daughter Ashley while in trial — something that occurred again with her second delivery of son Brandon!
There were sacrifices for the demanding work — like returning to work just two weeks after giving birth — but she was passionately driven. Robert couldn’t be prouder, “It was rewarding to see her work with law enforcement, undercover officers and the Texas Rangers. Most importantly is what she did to help protect those communities and rid the drug elements that could have effected children.”
Those successes came with a cost, and personal safety for her and her family became paramount. At that point she chose to open a private law practice in Boerne, but it wasn’t long before the family made a move to Corpus Christi with Robert’s job, and then to New Braunfels where Robert’s parents and sister lived. There they raised their children, with Susie having the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom. When the children were in middle school and high school, they moved to their ranch in Hondo.
Then Susie got a new calling. Diving into politics, she was elected Comal County Treasurer in New Braunfels — a job that would span nine years. It was there that the crime fighter started a different kind of fight. County physician Dr. Carlos Campos stopped by her office one day and immediately noticed Susie was having a stroke. He took her straight to the hospital where she was diagnosed with Critical Aortic Stenosis, requiring open heart surgery to insert a titanium aortic heart valve. “He saved my life,” she says of Dr. Campos.
A few years later, a routine medical check-up identified two tumors, affected lymph nodes and she was given a diagnosis of Stage 3 Estrogen Positive Breast Cancer. After bravely undergoing extensive surgery and chemotherapy treatments, Susie then was diagnosed by MD Anderson with Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Due to her previous cancer treatments and the severity of this rare cancer, they estimated she had 90 days to live, but they would try chemotherapy and radiation. The treatment was harsh, “The radiation was collar to hip and across rib to rib,” says Susie.
As she faced the doctor’s startling prognosis, she made the decision to create a trifecta bucket list — a quest as she calls it — to own a camel, a kangaroo and drive 200 MPH in her own vehicle. Mere days after creating her list, she was traveling north of Bulverde when, there in a field, was a camel. She recalls surprising the property owners as she announced, “God is telling me I need to buy your camel.” They wouldn’t sell but did tell her about an auction where she became the high bidder on her baby dromedary camel. When she went to pick it up, they advised her that she needed two things: another camel as they are herd animals and to attend camel school in Texarkana to learn how to properly manage the livestock. So, off she went to camel school where she acquired another camel — a neutered male named Humphry. But that wasn’t all. “The doors swung open and a baby kangaroo in a diaper hopped out! Not just any kangaroo, but a red kangaroo, the species I wanted for their good nature and temperament,” she says. Along the way she added two Grevy’s Zebras and two coatimundis. The menagerie required a place to roam, and so the couple purchased property and dubbed it Sanguinity Point Ranch, translating into “Blood of Life.” It became a place of distraction where she worked all the while enduring treatments, she says, “They needed me. I didn’t have time to feel sorry or focus on myself.” She’s currently bottle-feeding two baby kangaroos named Roopunzel and Booroo.
As for the racing portion of her list, that too fell into place. “It was all just a miracle,” she says of the used race car she purchased and then completed the Texas Mile in Beeville reaching 180 mph. Known as “Savage Suzy” on the racetrack, she bought a Devin MG-TD and has raced over much of North America, becoming the 2016 Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (“SVRA”) Group 4 National Champion and then receiving the 2016 National Rookie of the Year. She also won the prestigious “Wild Hare” Race in Virginia at the VIR Vintage Race (only 14 winners nationwide) where she was awarded a huge stuffed bunny and 10 Billion Zimbabwe Dollars! Earlier this year, Susie checked off another bucket list item by being one of only a handful of female racers (500 racers chosen from 1,200 applicants) selected to participate in the Monterey Reunion Vintage Race at Laguna Seca Raceway near Pebble Beach. Susie is looking forward to her next 2018 race on November 1-4 at Circuit of the Americas near Austin. As she continually says, “God is good all the time and life is better at the race track!”
Off the track, the Patterson’s have the joy of seeing their children often. Son Brandon, 26, works as a geologist and landman in the family business, Patterson Energy Corp. Daughter Ashley, 29, a Texas Coach Hall of Famer, visits regularly but they also travel to Austin to see her where she works as a teacher and golf coach at Westlake High School. Then there are the vacations centered on Robert’s interests. “Robert is an avid hunter in Texas and most of the Americas, and has had the privilege of taking our family on safari in South Africa with astronaut Charlie Duke and his lovely wife Dotty, where he killed the leopard above our fireplace,” says Susie.
In the fall of 2017, the Patterson’s moved to Cordillera Ranch. The couple had a long awareness of the community, “We’d been looking at it since it was developed,” says Robert. “When we sold our beloved Ft. Davis ranch, it fit perfectly. If we hadn’t found Cordillera Ranch, it would have been difficult to sell the ranch. Cordillera has it all and the best part is we don’t have to maintain it.” The couple enjoy the amenities and the people and are active in couples Pickleball, card games, multiple Bible studies and Robert remains an avid golfer. “It’s very comfortable. We feel accepted and a part of the community and believe we have something to give to it. Susie is extremely social, and this community allows her to enjoy that as much or as little as she wants. It fits our lifestyle — it’s what we wanted.”
It’s been six years since Susie got that harrowing prognosis and made her bucket list. The future is bright. To celebrate the 10-year, cancer-free milestone, Susie looks forward to participating in a vintage car race in Monaco. Robert isn’t surprised, “There are dreamers and there are doers. Susie is a doer. Whatever she sets her mind to do, she does. Get over cancer. Race cars. The good Lord had a lot to do with it.”