Homeland resident Pat Cameron: A life of firsts


Harrisburg and Homeland resident Patricia Cameron

Patricia Cameron woke up around 7 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941 to the sound of her mother’s call from the front lawn of their home, about 12 miles from the naval base.

“They’re attacking Pearl Harbor,’’ yelled her mom, as across the street a naval officer ran from his house and jumped into his car.

“We went from an idyllic experience to a rather terrifying one,” Pat says of the morning that President Franklin D. Roosevelt later called, “a day that will live in infamy.’’

Pat, her mother, and a little cairn terrier were in Honolulu while Pat’s father served as executive officer on a U.S. Navy cruiser at sea.

That day marked one memorable moment in a life full of highlights and firsts for the Homeland resident — daughter and sister of Navy admirals, a pioneering woman in the Episcopal church, and a co-founder of the Historic Harrisburg Association.

After the Pearl Harbor attack, Pat’s mother decided to relocate to the U.S. mainland, so they boarded the SS President Coolidge liner, which later became a troopship. The normal five-day trip took 10 days as the Coolidge joined a convoy zigzagging across the Pacific to elude any Japanese submarine attacks.

On the mainland, Pat and her mother made their way back to Philadelphia to be closer to Pat’s brother, a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. Pat enrolled in Friends Select School and was preparing to graduate when Punahou School in Hawaii sent a letter informing her that if she completed her senior year in another accredited school, they would send her a diploma.

“I graduated from two schools, 7,000 miles apart,” says Pat, who went on to study history at Bryn Mawr College.

After the war, her father – who won a Navy Cross and eventually retired as an admiral – commanded the Naval Training Center at Bainbridge, MD.

During a visit to Bainbridge, she met Duryea Cameron. They married at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral in Harrisburg, where her father settled near family after retiring. Duryea was an architecture student at Princeton University when a professor suggested that he study in Paris, so the young couple lived on the GI Bill for two Parisian summers. During their stay, they acquired bicycles and pedaled across France and neighboring Italy.

Returning to the U.S., Duryea earned a technical degree from Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon University. He took an architect position with a firm in Harrisburg, and that’s where they stayed, raising their three sons and one daughter.

As the kids grew up, Pat was blazing new trails. At St. Stephen’s, she was the first female senior warden in a cathedral church in the nation. When the cathedral opened a school, she served as its head.

“I loved being around everyone at the school,” she says. “There were some very talented young teachers just out of college.”

Following Tropical Storm Agnes, which devastated Harrisburg in 1972, an architect friend suggested that they help save historic structures facing demolition.

“We took that seriously,” Pat says. When a group met to form the Historic Harrisburg Association, the first two membership checks written were from Mr. and Mrs. Duryea Cameron and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral.

Even after retiring at age 72, Pat helped present story times at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School’s after-school program. Her husband died in 2013, and five months ago, Pat moved to Homeland. At Homeland, Pat reconnected with Pastor Dann Caldwell, who sang in the St. Stephen’s choir with her son when they were children and now provides spiritual counseling to the residents.

“There are a lot of nice people who work here,” she says. “I think that’s the best part.”

As she looks back, Pat says it’s important to express gratitude.

“I’m very grateful to God for many things that happened in my life,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of good friends over the years, and I was fortunate in my marriage and then my family. I’m grateful for all that goodness.”