Ruth M. Alexander posted a condolence
Friday, December 2, 2022
In memory of Joyce Rowe Ruth M. Alexander I first met Joyce and Gerry Rowe in late 1969 or early 1970. A close friend, Caroline, lived in their building had begun to babysit Claudia and Nina, who were about 3 and 1 respectively. One weekend evening I accompanied Caroline as she took care of the girls; when she went off to college in the fall of 1970, Joyce called to ask if I would like to babysit. During that last year of high school, I babysat often. Claudia and Nina were talkative and friendly little girls, and we got along beautifully. We read picture books together, made up silly stories, and generally had a great time. After the girls went to sleep, I would sit down and read, taking advantage of Joyce and Gerry’s substantial collection of fiction. When Joyce and Gerry got home, we would chat about the play or concert they had just seen and then talk about what I was reading. On Joyce’s suggestion, I read Frank Conroy’s Stop Time and Jack Finney’s Time and Again and was powerfully moved by both books. I really appreciated Joyce and Gerry’s kindness and engagement in thoughtful conversation, and it was wonderful to sense that they saw me as a young woman with promise who deserved to be nurtured and encouraged. Joyce took a keen interest in where I was applying to college and we kept in touch after I went off to Reed, in Portland, Oregon. I’m sure I visited them over Christmas that year; in fact, that may have been the year Nina and Claudia and I made a rather elaborate gingerbread house, using melted hard candy for colored glass in the cut-out window frames. Reed didn’t suit me, and I returned to New York City in the summer of 1972. The next year became a “gap year” though I wouldn’t have known to call it that at the time. I traveled a bit in the fall, then got a part-time job at the Museum of the City of New York and signed up for a non-credit anthropology class at the Museum of Natural History. Joyce welcomed me back as her babysitter and the girls and I returned to playing and reading together. By this time Joyce was working on her PhD in English at Columbia, and in spring 1973 she asked if I would take care of Claudia and Nina several afternoons a week so she could focus on her writing. I made a piñata that spring, though I can’t recall if it was for Nina’s birthday or Claudia’s. I brought recipes to the house to try out with the girls, and I remember Joyce being quite nice about our kitchen experiments, even when we concocted a perfectly horrible chocolate pudding. I was planning to enter the City College of New York in the fall, and Joyce and I talked about whether I should choose history or anthropology as a major. I didn’t yet have a clear idea of what it meant to work on a PhD, but I found it both exciting and reassuring to see an adult woman taking intellectual work so seriously. The Watergate hearings started that May, and both Joyce and Gerry watched them intently, sharing their views of the proceedings and the various people involved in them but mostly inviting me to listen and learn. I don’t remember babysitting much for Claudia and Nina while I was at CCNY, but Joyce and Gerry and I remained in regular touch. When my father’s acting career took off in the early to mid-1970s, they took notice and went to see some of his performances, which meant a lot to me. I left NYC in fall 1976, having completed a BA in History at CCNY, and never called the city home again. Still, I visited Joyce and Gerry during trips to NYC to see my own family, and I enjoyed seeing Claudia and Nina as they moved from childhood into adolescence. Joyce and I exchanged letters occasionally, and Joyce wrote a deeply touching note of condolence in 1980 when my father died. She and Gerry were extremely supportive when I decided to pursue an MA and then a PhD in History at UC Santa Barbara and Cornell. At some point, probably around the late 1980s, we lost touch. Then, in 2007 I reached out again, initially through Nina, having discovered that she was an art historian at Fordham. I also reached out to Claudia and learned that she was a successful journalist and writer in Seattle. The two little girls I cared for in the 1970s had become accomplished and lovely women. Nina put me back in touch with her parents, and the occasional lunches and dinners with Joyce and Gerry resumed, to my great delight. Since my sojourns from Colorado to NYC were infrequent, Joyce and I also communicated via email, writing letters filled with commentary on my work, her retirement, American politics, the books that made an impression on one or both of us, and our families. I received excited emails when Joyce and Gerry became grandparents and welcomed Ezra and Gabriel into their lives. The last time I saw Joyce and Gerry was in 2019 during a summer visit to the city. Nina was able to join us for lunch. Joyce appeared well, though she had gone through a difficult bout with cancer the year before. Gerry looked frail, but he rallied for our luncheon conversation. Unfortunately, I felt rushed, as I had a busy schedule of family activities that day. And so, off I went, not knowing that this would be my last visit with Joyce, the last time I’d enjoy her delightful presence. In April 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic sent the nation into lockdown, I called Joyce, and she assured me that she and Gerry were doing fine. That was probably the last time we spoke. Now, knowing that Joyce has passed, I find myself trying to identify all the qualities that captured my heart, all the lessons she offered about how to live a good life. Joyce combined kindness and devotion to family with keen intellectual engagement and commitments to teaching and scholarship. She cared deeply about our nation’s troubled democracy and modeled how to balance support for individuality and creativity with support for equality and public good. She enriched the lives of those around her, and I am far the better for having known her as a mentor and friend. Thank you, Joyce, for everything.
The family of Joyce A Rowe uploaded a photo
Friday, November 11, 2022