Born and raised by a single mother on the South Side of Chicago, Patrick won a scholarship to Milton Academy in Massachusetts in the eighth grade. He went on to attend Harvard College and Harvard Law School, where he was President of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. After graduating he practiced law with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He later joined a Boston law firm, where he was named a partner at the age of 34. In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed Patrick Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, where he worked on issues including racial profiling and police misconduct. Patrick returned to Boston in 1997 to work in private law. In the following years he worked as general counsel for Texaco in New York City and Coca-Cola in Atlanta, which were both facing large racial discrimination settlements.
When he announced his candidacy for the 2006 gubernatorial election in Massachusetts, Patrick was initially seen as a dark horse candidate, but ultimately won the Democratic primary against veteran politicians Thomas Reilly and Chris Gabrielli. He went on to defeat Republican Lieutanent Governor Kerry Healey in the general election, and was inaugurated in January 2007. In his first term, Patrick oversaw the implementation of the state's 2006 health care reform program, increased funding to education and life sciences, won a federal Race to the Top education grant, passed an overhaul of state transportation industries to create the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, worked with the legislature to defend the legality of same-sex marriage, and increased the state sales tax from 5% to 6.25%. Under Patrick, Massachusetts joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and greatly expanded services to veterans. His two legislative battles to implement casino gambling failed: he could not win the approval of the House of Representatives in March 2008, and he vetoed a bill passed by the legislature in August 2010 for going too far.
Patrick was re-elected in the 2010 gubernatorial election against Republican Charlie Baker and Independent Tim Cahill. His second term began on January 6, 2011 and in an interview with the Boston Globe, Patrick declares he will not seek re-election in 2014.