Patricia Duffy was born in San Pedro, California, the youngest of five children from a military family. Pat’s family on her father’s side came from Swinford in County Mayo, Ireland. She traveled to Ireland with her father and a college friend in 1991 and then later after her marriage to Joe Paul.
When Pat was eight years old, the Duffy family picked up and settled in Concord, Massachusetts. Pat graduated from Concord Carlisle High School and went on to receive her bachelor’s degree in International Relations and French from Tufts University. After college, Pat spent many years in the publishing industry in Boston, working for Houghton Mifflin.
It was her drive to do something more with her life and to feed that thirst for knowledge that eventually led her to the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. After receiving a Masters in Sociology at the University of Georgia, she returned to her home state to pursue her doctorate. Sociology as a course of study gave Pat the tools to understand the world. “Growing up in the 70s, I couldn’t understand why the country had gotten so conservative in the 80s. People were saying terrible things about people on welfare – that was when the myth of the ‘welfare queen’ was born. I disagreed so strongly with where the national dialogue was headed.” Pat’s sense of fairness and equal access to all are rooted in her parents, but also in observing the world and history from a sociological lens.
While at UMass, Pat became involved with her union shop. It was a time of serious budget cuts in public higher education, from which the university still suffers. Campus unions banded together and Pat rose to union leadership, eventually becoming lead organizer of the Continuing Education teachers and lead bargainer for their first contract. She has worked for and with unions ever since. “The labor movement gave me the tools to understand the impact of local politics in our everyday life and the skills for outreach and organizing that I draw on to this day.”
Wherever she goes, Pat is not afraid to speak her mind. Despite this, she’s also known for bringing disparate voices to the table, something sorely needed in a city that’s been dealing with divisive elections over important issues.
Pat also learned more and more about Holyoke during her time at UMass. Holyoke’s rich industrial history and the vibrancy of its residents drew her to the city. Holyoke was not dissimilar to Pat’s family’s Irish immigrant background. “I was studying labor and inequality and how they’ve shaped society today and right across the river was this microcosm of American history. Each immigrant wave has made the city all the more interesting.”
In 2002, she ran for State Representative in the 2nd Hampshire District, narrowly losing by fewer than a hundred votes to John Scibak who served in the position until January 2019. Pat’s candidacy helped move the political needle in that district, and arguably much of Western Massachusetts, further to the left.
In 2004, Pat finally settled down in Oakdale. She found Holyoke to be an incredibly welcoming city. She reached out to the Democratic party in Holyoke, met Carlos Vega and became involved in Nueva Esperanza, and started helping with community outreach against the privatization of wastewater treatment. Pat also quickly cultivated lifelong friendships and alliances. One of those friendships was with Tim Purington who successfully ran for city council in 2007 with Pat as his campaign manager. Tim was the first openly gay city councilor in Holyoke. Tim and Pat remained close until Tim’s untimely death in early 2019. Pat since then has helped out with multiple progressive political campaigns in Holyoke.
Her community contributions to Holyoke have been abundant. From 2006 to 2015, Pat served on the board of Nueva Esperanza. She’s also been a board member on the Holyoke Redevelopment Authority over the past ten years, having been first appointed by then Governor Deval Patrick.
In 2006, Pat felt so much connection with the city’s Irish roots that she joined Holyoke’s Parade Committee. She volunteered during parade day, usually on the corner of Franklin and Beech Streets and then hosted a small group of friends at her house for lamb stew and Guinness. “I made many wonderful friends working with the Parade Committee and am blown away by their dedication. My heart goes out to them especially during the 2020 cancelation, and I’m really looking forward to 2021.”
Serving on the board of Nueva Esperanza, Pat learned a great deal about the difficulties faced by the South Holyoke neighborhood. Nueva’s properties have been surrounded by vacant lots and neglected buildings for years. So the Redevelopment Authority’s prioritization of revitalizing South Holyoke is especially satisfying. “The point of having a Redevelopment Authority is to enter where the private market will not,” notes Pat. “We put out a Request for Interest in South Holyoke housing and have partnered with the Holyoke Housing Authority.” Plans are in place to fill in vacant lots with housing for South Holyoke residents surrounding, appropriately, Carlos Vega Park.
Pat met her husband Joe Paul at the wedding of two mutual friends. Since their marriage in 2014, they’ve made a happy life for themselves in Holyoke. Joe served as a commissioner on the Historical Commission for a few years and now works as a technical writer for Farm Credit Financial Partners, located in Agawam. The couple have returned to Ireland several times.
Over the years that she’s been working for Aaron, Pat has helped solve hundreds of constituent issues while helping craft legislation on Beacon Hill. Being able to serve constituents has given her the perspective of the real problems facing Holyoke residents. Her six years on Beacon Hill have also helped her see how legislative action can either serve the residents or undermine progress, depending on who is representing the community. Holyoke has “unacceptably high levels of poverty. You see people get in isolated neighborhoods, cut off from opportunities and resources.” Tackling these issues requires not only strong legislative ability but also a strong compass pointing towards fairness and equality. More recently, during the COVID-19 crisis, Pat has been working alongside Aaron to help constituents negotiate unemployment claims, find out their options for small business loans and to stay up-to-date on food providers and reports from local hospitals.
Running for state representative for the Fifth Hampden district is driven by that same desire to help Holyoke reach its full potential. Pat is not a career politician—she’s someone with a strong sense of fairness and equality who knows she has the skills to bring the city together to find solutions to the issues that face the city.