Once, when she showed me a snapshot taken of her in her youth back in 1967, I observed that the indomitable look in her eye staring back into the photographer’s lens reminded me of Faye Dunaway as bank robber Bonnie Parker in the film, ‘Bonnie and Clyde,’ which was released that same year. She laughed. There was an air of glamour and mischief about Joan that was captivating, forever a contradiction in terms: She was elegant but personable, authoritative but accessible, impeccable but gracious and polished but warm. Although I don’t know that Joan would have ever described herself as a feminist in the progressive manner of a Betty Friedan or Gloria Steinem, she embodied in her own unique way the spirit of a woman who would not be deterred from mastering this world on her own terms because of her sex, marital status or station. She was tenaciously true to herself and her ideals. She spoke passionately about the work of Providence, easily recounting the history of the ministry in detail, her deep and abiding admiration for the Sisters in all of their fascinating, accomplished glory and her own rich, rewarding career path of discovery and advancement. Although a loving wife to her husband, Joseph, she was no man’s damsel in distress. She knew few strangers and could prove a fiercely loyal friend and, when she deemed necessary, a formidable opponent. She wrestled life with her own two elegant hands, whether those hands were capturing breathtaking images of wildlife with her camera in the heart of Africa, directing system office operations and services for one of the largest Catholic health care systems in the United States or compassionately serving a simple spaghetti dinner to a line of homeless men, souls adrift in the cluttered kitchen of a Pioneer Square mission. She faced her own unexpected challenges with sincere modesty, resolute confidence and a pragmatic fortitude befitting a woman of her grace and discipline.
A heroine is defined as a woman admired or idealized for her courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. Famed author, Nora Ephron, once said, ‘Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.’ Joan was many things to many people: a pioneer, a professional, a fashionista, a leader and an outlaw. But however she may have privately defined her successes or failures, above all, she was the heroine of her life. Would that each of us be so fortunate as to leave a memory as authentic to our best selves as Joan has. Perhaps providing that inspiration may be her greatest personal legacy to those of us she leaves behind; those of us who will carry that portrait of her in our hearts for the rest of our lives.
-Greg Lyle-Newton, Joan’s friend and colleague