“When I get old I shall wear purple,” is the first line in the poem “Warning,” by Jenny Joseph. It tells the tale of a woman who vows to break the rules of orthodoxy when she gets old.
My stepmother, Joyce Gillie, didn’t wait to get old; she was wearing purple when I first met her when I was 8 years old. Purple was her favorite color. She wore purple, her house had a lot of purple in it, and she drove a lavender Oldsmobile.
It was easy to buy a birthday or Christmas present for Joyce — it just had to be purple.
Joyce was also a bit of a nonconformist. Graduating from college in 1946, she worked in education in the Olympia School District in Washington State, including about 30 years as an elementary school principal. She worked as an administrator in the district office for a couple of years before she retired after 42 years of work.
Even though Beaver’s principal in the 50s and 60s sitcom “Leave it to Beaver” was a woman, Joyce was a pioneer. In her time women were not represented well among school administrators. Even today, while 75 percent of elementary and secondary teachers are women, only 44 percent of principals are women and only 18 percent of school superintendents are women, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education.
Joyce, however, fought sexism in the workplace long before feminists burned bras. She encountered a glass ceiling before the term was coined.
But Joyce not only fought for equality for herself, she fought for equality of opportunity for young and old, families in poverty, the hungry, and other of society’s forgotten souls.
Seeing a need for quality affordable child care for working mothers in her community, Joyce joined with friends and created a local non-profit organization that serves as a resource to increase child care in her community.
Throughout her professional career, Joyce was involved in many professional, political and community organizations on a local and national level.
After retiring, she continued her involvement in the community.
Once on the list of possible people to fill a vacant county treasurer position, Joyce served as treasurer for a U.S. Congressman’s campaign.
On Thanksgiving Day, Joyce went to her church and helped serve dinner to homeless people as part of her church’s outreach program.
Fiercely independent, she lived alone in the house she built after my father passed away in 2001.
Two weeks ago, just about to turn 92, Joyce passed away at home, peacefully and unexpectedly. In December, she underwent cataract surgery, so she could continue to drive and continue to serve. It seemed like after more than a lifetime of service, the Energizer bunny’s batteries just ran out.
So for the third time since I moved to Utah 19 years ago, I am making the 901 mile road trip back to Washington to bury a parent.
Joyce had no children of her own, but after working in education in the same town for 42 years, we couldn’t go anywhere with her without running into a former student. She had many children and friends.
I have always thought of myself as a bit of a nonconformist. Maybe that is in part due to Joyce’s influence. When I get old, I shall not wear purple. But I did buy a purple shirt and tie to wear to the celebration of Joyce’s life.