Carolyn Patterson, the “Grande Dame of the Geographic,” died on July 7 of cirrhosis of the liver. She was 82.
Patterson started her writing career as a police reporter for the New Orleans States newspaper. In 1949, she moved to Washington and applied for a job as a file clerk at National Geographic. Instead, the magazine hired her as a research assistant.
Patterson was given the opportunity to write the captions (“legends”) for the magazine’s world-famous photographs. Ten years later, she became the legends editor. Patterson was the first woman to become a senior editor at National Geographic, and the first woman to have her name published in its masthead.
An adventurous sort, Patterson also wrote articles for the magazine. She covered Winston Churchill’s funeral in London and built a hut in Haiti. She dodged the poison arrows of hostile tribesmen in Brazil and went white-water rafting off the coast of Australia.
Patterson served as a past president of the Society of American Travel Writers, and published her memoirs, “Of Lands, Legends and Laughter: The Search for Adventure with National Geographic” in 1998.