Helen M. “Chick” Patterson, a career Baltimore public schools educator who had an insatiable love of travel, died Aug. 8 of leukemia at Blakehurst Retirement Community in Towson. She was 86.
“Helen was a very good person and genuinely complimented people in a nice way,” said C. Sylvia Brown, a community volunteer who lives in Glen Arm. “She was lots of fun and had a great regard for family and her community. She was good-natured and there was never a dull moment when she was around.”
The former Helen Norma Michael, the daughter of Dr. Otis Michael, a physician, and his wife, Nannie Michael, a secretary, was born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina. At birth, family members said, she was given the nickname of “Chick,” which stayed with her for the rest of her life.
“She spent her early years in Asheville as a black American raised by her widowed mother during segregation and overt racism,” a daughter, Dr. Angela M. Patterson, a neonatologist and pediatrician, wrote in a biographical profile of her mother.
“She endured a rough childhood, and since the death of her mother in the 1980s, opted to not participate in a recent trip to the Biltmore [the 800-acre and 250-room estate that had been built by George Washington Vanderbilt II in 1889] in Asheville, ‘Why would I go and visit a place that did not allow blacks to visit when I was growing up?’ ” wrote Dr. Patterson, who lives in Silver Spring.
Mrs. Patterson left Asheville when she was 16 to enter Hampton Institute, now Hampton University, in Hampton, Virginia. She graduated in 1954 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education. She earned a master’s degree in education in 1971 from what is now Loyola University Maryland and completed additional postgraduate work at the Johns Hopkins University, University of Maryland, College Park, and City College.
“She often spoke glowingly about her college days at Hampton, her friends, the excellent education that she received and how she enjoyed being a majorette, Miss ROTC and a member of AKA Sorority,” her daughter wrote.
Mrs. Patterson enjoyed attending class reunions at Hampton and was a founding member of Hampton Ladies, a college alumni group.
After graduating from Hampton, Mrs. Patterson moved to Baltimore and went to work for Baltimore public schools, teaching physical education at the Chick Webb Recreation Center and Pool on North Eden Street.
In 1956, a district school supervisor wrote Mrs. Patterson a letter praising her work. He mentioned her “pleasant personality, cooperative attitude and high personal standards ... that had positive impact on the entire center and program.”
During her 37-year career with city public schools, Mrs. Patterson held teaching, counselor and assistant principal positions at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Frederick Douglass High School and Northern Parkway Junior High School.
Mrs. Patterson served on numerous task forces and implemented strategic planning, policies and procedures, all with the school system. At the time of her retirement in 1993, she was the coordinator of the Office of Special Pupil Services.
On a warm summer July day in 1954, Mrs. Patterson was invited aboard the Fla-Joe, the 80-foot yacht belonging to Dr. Joseph H. Thomas, a Baltimore physician, and met and fell in love with her future husband, Doward B. Patterson Jr. She married him two years later.
“They spent many weekends water skiing on their boat, Trouble, with fancy one-legged slaloms and jumps!” wrote her daughter. "Throughout their marriage, she and Doward, himself a clinical pathology chemist at Sinai Hospital, would enjoy traveling and cruising with friends and family, and road trips in their trailer as members of a camping group called the “Blackhawks,” relaying messages and jokes throughout their road trips via popular CB radios."
Mrs. Brown and her husband, Eddie C. Brown, founder and CEO of Brown Capital Management Inc., first became friends with Mrs. Patterson and her husband when they moved to Baltimore.
“We met them through the family camping group, and we had many, many good times on weekend camping trips,” said Mrs. Brown, who added that she and Mrs. Patterson and their husbands “bonded.”
When Mr. Patterson died in 2017, Mrs. Brown told The Baltimore Sun that “Doward was an inquisitive traveler.”
“We celebrated a lot of good times together, and Helen liked her glass of wine with dinner,” Mrs. Brown said with a laugh. “She was a person of strong convictions and would do anything for a friend.”
In the 1970s, Mrs. Patterson and her husband built a pool in the backyard of their Forest Park home, which became the center for many weekend parties and gatherings for family and friends.
Mrs. Patterson was a member of the Baltimore Girlfriends Inc., Spockettes, Bon Bons and Gamma Boule Archousa.
She and her husband, who was the co-owner of Carter Clinical Labs, moved to Blakehurst in 2015 from Quarry Lake at Greenspring. She was a member of the retirement community’s Governor’s Board and event Planning Board.
An avid daily swimmer, Mrs. Patterson continued swimming at Blakehurst until a year before her death.
“She even learned to play croquet there,” her daughter wrote. “She was proud to be known by her curly hair and love for her fried green tomatoes,” Dr. Patterson wrote. “She made many wonderful friends at Blakehurst who enriched her life along with her lifelong friends until the end.”
Mrs. Patterson, who was a world traveler, was a fan of soap operas, especially “The Young and the Restless,” and “The Bold and the Beautiful,” her daughter said. She also liked tending her house plants and bird-watching.
Her husband of 60 years died in 2017.
She was a member of New All Saints Roman Catholic Church, where a memorial Mass was offered Monday.
In addition to her daughter, she is survived by another daughter, Baltimore District Court Judge Devy P. Russell of Guilford, and four grandchildren.