Ada Gates Patton hails from a family whose roots include Elyria as well as cousins named Vanderbilt and Frick.
Yet a life that included growing up as a debutante among the high society of Long Island, N.Y., modeling and acting, and a second career as a nationally known farrier have done nothing to diminish her deep affection for, and ties to, Elyria.
Patton returned to town this week to regale audiences at the Lorain County History Center and the Elyria Women’s Club with tales of what many might call a storybook life.
Her Wednesday luncheon appearance before the Elyria Woman’s Club at Monteith Hall was very apropos, as the historic, stately white frame house was built in 1835 by her great-great-grandparents, John and Abigail Monteith.
In later years the family grew to include the Gates family, whose name and good works are Elyria fixtures, including Gates Hospital for Crippled Children, which led to the birth of the nationwide Easter Seal Society.
University Hospitals Elyria Medical Center’s Gates Medical Center still carries the family name.
During a fast-paced slide show supplemented by a wealth of lively anecdotes, Patton told of a colorful life that included acting alongside Al Pacino and James Earl Jones and strolling along a New York sidewalk with a “rented” dog for a Ralston-Purina ad.
Despite these and other heady experiences, the most fulfilling chapter of Patton’s life began in 1971 when she made the momentous decision to leave it all behind and head west to join 49 “boys” at a horseshoeing school in Oklahoma.
“I was a college dropout and had failed as an actress,” Patton said.
Fed in part by her lifelong love of horses on the family’s upstate New York farm, Patton vowed to succeed in a field that is still largely male-dominated today.
Her resolve to make it in such an unlikely line of work was fueled even more by the horseshoeing school instructor who vowed “I don’t want no woman to shoe my horse,” she said.
Upon her successful completion of the school’s coursework, Patton headed to Colorado to begin plying her newfound trade.
Patton went to Colorado where no one knew her. But that was about to change.
Becoming the first woman to become a licensed farrier and member of the International Union of Journeyman Horseshoers, Patton soon drew national media attention including a 1976 Time magazine cover story, a spread in People magazine, and appearances on TV’s long-running “What’s My Line” and David Letterman’s late-night talk show during which she gave Letterman a humorous lesson in shoeing a horse.
“I wanted to be the best farrier I could be,” Patton said. “I was the first woman licensed to shoe racehorses in the United States and Canada.”
Over the years, Patton’s equine clients included Wild Again, winner of the inaugural Breeders Cup Classic in 1984.
“What a horse, what a race,” she recalled.
Patton’s love of horses then led to a fateful meeting with Harry Patton, who headed the farriers’ union of which she was the first female member. Ada Gates and Patton became apprentice and mentor at California’s Santa Anita Race Track where the couple met and they married in 1988.
Patton went on to found a company that manufactured horseshoes and horseshoeing equipment.
He died of cancer in 2000, but his widow still oversees the business.
These days, Patton also keeps busy as official inspector of the estimated 200 horses that annually walk the five-mile route of the Tournament of Roses Parade each New Year’s Day in Pasadena, Calif.