I’m still stunned that this happened to me, Patte O’Connor, a girl from Toledo, Ohio.
I was 24, recently out of graduate school, and in the first few months of my job as assistant director of activities at Clemson University the day I met Bill Cosby.
When I first started at Clemson, I was really excited. It was 1984 and a totally different culture and time than it is now. In hindsight, I was still quite naive. Coming from the background that I did—born and raised in Toledo, a very Catholic upbringing and education—I was pretty sheltered. White bread.
At the time, Clemson was on fire. It was a hot place to be, and we were ecstatic to have scored Bill Cosby to do a show as part of our homecoming events that year. The Cosby Show was at its height. Ratings were high and getting higher. So when my boss asked me to be Cosby’s personal assistant who would be charged with hosting him the day of the event, it was very big. The job was my life.
The night before he arrived, I prepared the auditorium for the show with some students. We were working like dogs to get everything just right and I didn’t get to bed until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. The next morning, I was up and running at 8 a.m., with just a few hours of sleep under my belt. My adrenaline was in high gear. I don’t even recall consuming anything but a cup of coffee.
His flight got in around 2 o’clock that day. He’d flown in on his private plane and landed on a strip in this field right outside Clemson. I was waiting there with a security team, police escorts, and a driver. He got off the plane in a red Adidas jumpsuit, just like the famous one from the opening credits of The Cosby Show. I introduced myself as his escort for the day and asked what he would like to do. I offered a tour of campus or a trip to some nearby lakes and mentioned we had beautiful scenery around.
But he wasn’t interested in anything except getting to the hotel room and finding a mom-and-pop kind of place to pick up some hamburgers and Cokes. We got the food, headed to the hotel, and I walked him up to his room. Standing in the hallway, I handed him the keys and his food, and in my mind, I’m thinking, Of course he doesn’t want to be with little-miss-nothing-nobody Patte from Toledo, Ohio, right now. He’s not interested in any tours; he just wants to get to his room.
But he invited me in, and as someone who was his “hostess,” I said “okay” and entered.
The room had two beds, separated by a nightstand where a lamp and phone sat. I chose a seat by a table in the corner. There was a typical gift basket sitting there with fruit, nuts, and a small bottle of wine.
He sat on the bed nearest the door and said, “This is my bed, and that’s your bed,” pointing to indicate which bed was which. For a split second, I thought, Well, that’s a weird comment, like okay…whatever you want.
He ate his hamburger and offered me one too but I didn’t want to eat. I was too nervous. I didn’t want to eat in front of him and I just wasn’t hungry.
We started chatting and what struck me right off the bat was that he wasn’t the guy on TV. He wasn’t Dr. Huxtable. He didn’t have that voice, the tone, or the mannerisms. He wasn’t lighthearted. He was very serious, very intellectual, and very straightforward. We didn’t talk about topical things like the weather, how the football team was doing, or if I liked my job right away. Instead, we discussed education and philosophy. There was no laughing or anything like that, but he put me at ease very quickly.
At some point, he noticed the bottle of wine in the basket and asked if I’d like a glass. I’d turned down the burger, but I felt more comfortable this time so I accepted a little glass of wine that he poured into one of the cups in the room. I rarely drank and because I had not eaten and it was mid-afternoon, the wine hit me very quickly. I was relaxed. I didn’t notice that he never drank any alcohol himself. It didn’t register. Nothing did.
In time, I went through the whole bottle, which wasn’t full-size but a smaller one. He started asking about my family. That day, one of my cousins was getting married and he suggested we call the reception hall and get my cousin on the phone. “Let’s have some fun with this,” he’d said. “What a great idea!” I remember agreeing.
I then moved from the table and chair to sit on “my bed.” He was already sitting on “his bed” and we faced each other and tried to navigate how to contact the reception hall on this old-fashioned corded phone. Eventually, we got my cousin on the phone and it was like, “Hey, I’m with Bill Cosby!” At the time, I thought it was all great and light and fun.
Shortly after hanging up, he asked if I liked coffee and I did. Then he asked if I liked coffee cocktails. Sure I do!
So he ordered coffee and some small bottles of Kahlúa to the room and, like the wine, started serving me these coffee drinks. I never noticed he wasn’t participating.
Afterward, he asked me if I was tired and I said yes. I was super tired. I was feeling the effects, but I also felt like this guy was now my buddy. So when he suggested I join him on “his bed,” my defenses were down and I did. He asked if I liked back rubs or tummy rubs. I felt a little tick inside of me saying something doesn’t feel right. I didn’t even understand what a tummy rub was. But I answered, “Uh, a back rub?”
He then put his hands on my shoulders and just kind of touched them for a bit. It seemed like a very short amount of time passed before he said, “Okay, my turn. I want a tummy rub.”
Again, I felt that internal tick. I didn’t even know how to give a tummy rub. But he lifted his shirt up and I took my hand in a very nonsexual way and just made a few circles on his stomach. Intimacy was never even on my radar. It didn’t last long before he leaned over and kissed me. A siren then went off inside of me. Immediately I said “no” and backed away.
I was in shock. It was as if your best friend’s brother, whom you’ve known all your life, had kissed you. Everything was wrong about it. It was like, “Ew, you’re married! Ew, you’re my friend! Friends don’t kiss!”
And that’s the moment I’m pretty sure I passed out, because the next thing I remember is the phone ringing. The room was pitch-black. I would see later that my clothes were still on my body yet disheveled as if they’d been balled up and put back on. I didn’t know where I was or what was going on. I picked up the phone and it was my boss. He was yelling, saying things like, “Why aren’t you here?” and “Why haven’t you checked in?” and “What’s going on?” It was question after question.
I remember hearing the shower running in the room but I don’t remember what I ever said to my boss. It seemed like a short conversation, yet within minutes, there was pounding on the door. I’m still on the bed when Cosby answered it. It was my boss, who I think Cosby kept out in the hallway. I don’t remember getting off the bed or exiting the room. But I remember getting into the car, which had a police escort, with Cosby and my boss. I sat in the middle of them.
I don’t remember arriving at the university or getting out of the car, but I know when we got into the building, there was a long hallway. All the students, my coworkers, and faculty lined the halls. They were so excited.
We had a locker room set up for the press and for university administration to get photo ops. I couldn’t even focus on people’s faces. It was all fuzzy. I truly don’t even know how I walked down the corridor. There was all this craziness, cameras were going off. But I was in a fog.
I could hear the opening act in the background. We were running late. I remember seeing my boss in a corner with Cosby. He was in his face, visibly angry. I can’t recall the exact words, but it was clear he was asking Cosby what happened. But there was no time for a sit-down to talk it all out. The opening act was already on.
The next thing I remember was hearing the roar of the crowd as he walked on the stage. The whole auditorium just went insane. I had to be sent home because I was totally incapacitated. Someone orchestrated getting me out of the door and into a car but I don’t remember the ride home.
I hadn’t even made it up the stairs of the townhouse where I lived when I passed out. I woke up there in the early-morning hours and eventually got myself in bed. I immediately called my boss when I woke up again that morning. I thought I was fired. I was so upset, I cried and apologized over and over again. He only said we’d talk about it at work the next day.
That Monday, I walked into the office thinking I’d be fired. I was humiliated. We had a staff meeting right away that morning. My boss sat down at his desk, opened a drawer, and pulled out a wine opener. He put it on the top of the desk and everyone in the meeting just burst into laughter. I was actually so relieved. I thought, Oh my god, I’m not going to be fired. I don’t even remember what we talked about in the meeting, but I know we never discussed what happened with Cosby ever again.
I didn’t fully comprehend what happened to me that day until 2005. In my head, I just made it this funny Bill Cosby story. For years, I made light of it for people.
When Andrea Constand came forward, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was sick because her story was so similar to mine. I just thought, Oh my god, I passed out. I was a woman. Something had to have happened to me that day.
I saw that Gloria Allred was representing several Cosby victims and I reached out to her office and told my story. That’s how I became Jane Doe #6.
In 2012, my dad passed away and I quit my job and began a new career. My mom was ailing from dementia and couldn’t live on her own, so I moved her in with me. Toward the end of her life, I received a note from an investigative journalist, Nicki Weisensee Egan. She explained that she was writing a book on Bill Cosby and I knew this was my opportunity. The book, Chasing Cosby: The Downfall of America’s Dad, was published in April 2019 and that’s where I was first publicly identified as Jane Doe #6.
I had repressed the trauma for so long that the aftermath of admitting it, of coming forward, was brutal. It still is not good. In fact, it will never be good or easy. Ever. I have issues with anxiety that I have to be very mindful of to manage. I can get overwhelmed very easily. It’s impacted my personal relationships. I’m still single. I have issues with trust. I have dealt with depression, on and off.
When Cosby was released last week, I was hysterical. At the time he was convicted, it was such a relief knowing that he was recognized around the world as the perpetrator that he is. Whether or not people chose to stay in his corner, justice was served. Now, my brain just can’t process it. I learned of the release from a lawyer friend who explained to me how this could’ve happened. He’s explained it to me five times a day at this point. I’m still not done processing, and I don’t know when I ever will be.
We Cosby victims are an exceptionally wretched, unique set. Most victims don’t have to see their perpetrator or hear about them. But for this subset of women, we are constantly exposed to the trauma as he continues to pop up in the media. Bam, it hits. I’m 62 now. I’ll feel the ripple effects even after he dies, meaning I won’t escape this until I do.
From time to time, I have to put a positive spin on it or else I would be in a closet with the lights turned out all the time. I think that it was meant to happen. Justice for me is making my world—the one in my mind—just and fair and peaceful so my thoughts don’t imprison me. I was given an opportunity to be one of the Davids against Goliath. I have been given a voice and I’m thankful that I can use it to stand up. I’m not an expert on assault, I just know what I went through.
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