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Five Questions: Johnson City true home for Patterson family

Sue Guinn Legg • Jul 14, 2019 at 9:26 PM

Holston Habitat for Humanity Executive Director and former Hands On! Regional Museum director Trish Patterson, her sister, Johnson City Schools attorney and human resource director Lee Patterson, and their dad, longtime Johnson City businessman Bill Patterson have made their family name a familiar one in the city.

Bill and three of his five children recently sat down with the Johnson City Press to talk about what it was like growing up here in the 1960s and ’70s, the life ventures that took each of them away to live in other communities and the love of home that eventually brought all but one of them back.

How did their first come to Johnson City?

It was 1957 and Bill, now 89, was a young Navy veteran with a wife and two very young daughters when he moved them here to launch Home Credit Company, a consumer finance business he operated through the mid-1970s. To the surprise of his daughters, he said, “It was originally located in John Sevier, which was a very nice hotel.” His daughters remember the office only at its location on the 200 block of East Main Street in a building near Spring Street that has since been torn down. Trish fondly recalls the door sat at an angle that kept them out of the wind and a ledge where the Pattersons always stood to watch the downtown Christmas parades.

What are their favorite memories of growing up in Johnson City in the 1960s and ’70s?

Living next door to Mimi Rose, the beloved junior high school math teacher and founder of the Washington County Humane Society who often took the Patterson kids along with her to rescue animals in distress. They delight when they retell the story of how once a week Mimi would take one or more of the Patterson kids to the WJHL studio to serve as her assistants on an adoptable pet feature that aired on “The Katherine Willis Show.”

Downtown shopping at shops including JC Penney with its candy kiosk at the center of store; King’s department store with its uniformed elevator attendants; the Buster Brown shoe store with its carousel for children and an X-ray machine for feet that their mother prohibited them from using to prevent their unnecessary exposure to radiation; Ball Brothers furniture where every customer was treated to a free bottle of Coke and every high school student was presented with a cedar chest upon their graduation.

Movies at the Family Drive-in on West Market Street in their dad’s 1957 station wagon with drinks and popcorn they brought from home. Trips to Dairy Queen where four of the five Patterson kids were given their choice of a soft-serve cone or a Dilly Bar and, by rotation, one sibling was allowed to order a parfait.

Teen hangouts, including Johnson City’s first McDonald’s on North Roan Street; Hardees on North Roan at Eighth Avenue; and the original North Roan Street Pizza Hut where the dining room was packed with Toppers after every ballgame and Eric Clapton’s “Layla” was the most popular song on the jukebox.

Where did they go from here?

Bill: By the late 1970s, all but two of the Patterson kids had finished high school. Bill was running his second Johnson City business, a branch office of Pioneer Credit, when he accepted a job with Pioneer’s home office in Cleveland, Tenn. Four years later, his work took them on to Mississippi. In 1994, with all of their kids gown and gone, Bill and his late wife Jeanette, who died in 2013, followed their hearts back to Johnson City where he opened East Tennessee Finance. For the past 20 years he has been the proprietor of Unaka Auto Sales, which he now runs with help from his second oldest child, Judy King. 

Trish: After one year at East Tennessee State University, Trish became the first Patterson kids to fly to coop, heading off the University of Tennessee, where she got her undergraduate degree, completed law school and married a young man from Johnson City who was employed by TVA. Her husband’s job took them from Knoxville to Chattanooga, where they remained for 16 years and had raised three children to high school age when TVA gave her husband a large promotion and, with it, the opportunity they longed for — a chance to return home to Northeast Tennessee.

Judy King: The second oldest of the Patterson kids, Judy left for Florida soon after high school. And there she married, made her home in New Smyna Beach, sold and appraised real estate in the Orlando area and remained for 33 years. After her husband’s death in 2006, Judy, too, came home to Tennessee to be near her family.

Lee: The first Patterson sibling born in Johnson City and last one to graduate high school here, Lee followed Trish to UT for college and law school. With help from their dad, who paid their rent on the agreement they pay their own tuition, the sisters shared an apartment on a very tight budget that allowed them one long distance phone call a week, which they used to call their parents. When Trish married, Lee finished college and law school without her former roommate, waiting tables and living on an even tighter budget. She had married, divorced and was practicing law in Nashville and attempting to raise her first child on her own when she, with her 5-month-old baby, became the first of the Pattersons to retreat home to Johnson City.

Katherine: The youngest Patterson sister, a former Miss Cleveland, and a talented singer, married a pharmacist in Mississippi, where the couple lived until their purchase of a pharmacy chain in Kentucky. When her marriage broke up, she moved to New Smyma with Judy before coming back to Johnson City in 2004.

Bill Jr.: The youngest of the family and the only Patterson sibling who has not moved back to Johnson City, Bill Jr. married a Mississippi girl and continues to make that state his home. His sisters believe his wife would move here “in a heartbeat,” if not for husband, who they suspect enjoys his escape from a house full of sisters.

What is about Johnson City that drew the family back?

Bill: “Johnson City was our home because our children were raised here. We had roots here. Having lived in different cities and different states, Johnson City, by far, was the best place we found to have your family. This is our home.”

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