As a citizen of the Soviet Union, Lucy Patterson was as far removed from the American Dream of home ownership as one could be. But as a Realtor licensed to sell real estate in the Greater Chattanooga area, she’s facilitating the very thing that once was out of reach.
Patterson loves her job, especially the smiles. “At the closing table - happy buyer, happy seller,” she says. “Somebody getting new home; somebody getting new life. All troubles behind; now the happy life.” Her Russian accent is thick, but it doesn’t smother her English.
Patterson grew up in a small town located between the Black and Caspian Seas. As an adult, she held a variety of jobs, from selling goods to oil industry workers to managing a night club. Patterson’s years as a Soviet citizen were restrictive, and life as a Russian after the fall of communism had its difficulties, but she doesn’t grouse about her homeland. Instead, she focuses on her lack of a love life at that time in her life.
“I was alone, and I was not getting younger. I needed to do something, so my friend posted pictures of me on AOL,” Patterson says. She pronounces “AOL” slowly, saying each letter of the acronym for America Online deliberately.
“And there he found me.”
“He” was Blair Patterson, Sr., a commercial Realtor and all around nice guy. “He was different,” Patterson says. “He was a southern gentleman - the kind you read about. And he was handsome.”
The two met online in 2001 and got to know each other through emails and talking on the phone. Their first face-to-face meeting took place during the holiday season that same year in Moscow. “It was minus twenty-eight,” Patterson says. “He took it well.”
In time, Blair popped the question, and Patterson, whose Russian name is Lyudmila Vladimirovna Popova, said yes. “He called me his little bride,” she says, laughing. “He says asking me to marry him was the best decision of his life.”
Patterson was thrilled to be Blair’s wife, but her troubles were not over, as cabin fever and the language barrier made adjusting to life in America anything but easy.
As a new U.S. resident, Patterson was initially unable to work or drive. Making matters worse, Blair lived in a house by a lake, not in a more populated area. Patterson says having nothing to do made her “climb the walls.”
“I was working hard all my life, and now I have nothing to do,” Patterson says. “I thought, ‘What am I doing here?’”
Being stuck at home was a moot point anyway because Patterson didn’t speak the language of Southerners. Although she’d learned English growing up, it was the British variance, not the American, and her new neighbors delivered words in a Southern drawl, rendering much of what they said incomprehensible to her.
To acclimate, Patterson turned on her TV, and then activated the closed captions. “I needed to learn how people sounded. I could read English, but when people would speak, I would be lost,” she says. “My favorite show was ‘COPS’ because they were not talking the perfect English; they were using slang.”
After Patterson obtained a work permit, a friend allowed her to serve drinks at his restaurant. While getting out of the house and being productive felt good, she had another problem: she didn’t understand American culture. From how money moves in the U.S. to the styles of clothing, Patterson had a lot to learn. So, she took a job at Proffitt’s at Northgate Mall.
“I was surrounded by people,” she says. “In one year at Proffitt’s, I learned things I never would have learned in five years at home.”
While Patterson was being schooled on the ins and outs of American culture, she undertook a more formal education at Chattanooga State. Her goals were twofold: immersive herself in the English language and acquire a set of job skills. For the latter, Patterson chose business administration. But even with her English improving by leaps and bounds, she knew her options were limited.
“With my accent, I knew I couldn’t get a job in business administration because everybody has to start from a receptionist,” she says, “I knew no one would hire me because of my accent, even though I can be brilliant and hard working.”
Patterson poured a lot of thought into what she wanted to do. Then the solution hit her like a ton of bricks: real estate.
Blair was against the idea. Patterson didn’t know why then, but she does now. “He knew what I didn’t know: it’s a really hard work, and sometimes, it’s a really hard work for nothing,” she says.
When Patterson told him it would allow her to do what she wanted to do, despite her accent, he acquiesced. “I told him real estate would allow me to help people,” she says.
Patterson obtained her license in 2010 and set up shop at Crye-Leike in Hixson, Tenn. She cites the company’s size and the extensive agent education it offers as factors in her decision. “When you’re starting your career, you have to have big supporting company behind your back,” she says.
Patterson says her accent has rarely been a factor when working with a client, as she gives her buyers and sellers free reign to tell her to slow down if she begins speaking too quickly to understand. Besides, her hard work more than makes up for the occasional conversational glitch.
“My husband says I am the most hard working girl he ever saw,” she says. “The problem is I have to do maybe double work. Because of my accent, I have to prove I’m smart enough to do this job.”
Patterson has the testimonials to back up her claim. Tom and Donna Davy, who used her to find and arrange the purchase of a home in Soddy Daisy, Tenn., swear by her. “Lucy was fantastic. She knew what we were looking for. We found a beautiful home because of her,” Donna says.
When the couple was unable to work with their loan officer, Patterson suggested someone else Donna says did a terrific job. Now they consider her their go-to agent. “If we ever sell our home or buy another one, we’ll use Lucy,” Donna said. “I wouldn’t trade her for anybody.”
Patterson wouldn’t trade her old life for her new one. She likes life in America - not just because it came with a handsome southern gentleman, but because of the freedoms she enjoys.
“Life in America is easy. If you’re not breaking a rule, nobody will bother you. In Russia, the road police can stop you for nothing. They can always find something,” Patterson says. “And you will either give them money or get a ticket.”
Patterson appreciates being left alone to do her job, too. “Nobody is calling me and saying, ‘Bring me a couple thousand dollars, and then we will proceed.’”
The freedoms Patterson holds dear extend to everyday things like being able to watch the movies she chooses to see. She’s seen every James Bond film, from “Dr. No” to “Spectre,” and has an affinity for the Rambo movies, which were restricted in the Soviet Union.
Like a sponge soaking up water, Patterson is absorbing as much of life in America as she can. She’s especially proud of being an alumna of the Chattanooga Police Department’s Citizen’s Police Academy, which she says was an eye-opening experience. “We learned about the gangs in Chattanooga, and where the shootings are happening,” she says. “You have to know these things.”
Patterson has also learned the importance of giving back, which she does as the secretary of the Valleybrook Townhomes Association in Hixson, where she and Blair live. Even when Patterson is serving others, she chooses a path that challenges her language skills and pushes her to improve her English.
Regardless of the progress she has yet to make with the English language, Patterson has no trouble communicating her thoughts about life in America - nor does she have qualms about speaking her mind when she hears someone complaining about that very thing. “When somebody starts griping, I say, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about. I know there are a lot of things to complain about, but be thankful.’”
Patterson is thankful, not just for her life in America, but for the people who are a part of that life, for the career she never expected to have, and for the daily freedoms that give her pleasure. This life was not handed to her; rather, she built it through her intelligence, determination, and persistence. In real estate parlance, she’s at the closing table, and has received the keys to a new future. All troubles behind; now the happy life.