How do you capture Joan in a few words?
You don’t, and I can’t. It’s a bit like trying to capture a moonbeam
in a jar. She cast so
much light in so many ways, in so many lives. Her life-light
finally went out, but she has left sparks of light in all of us: her
love of mankind in general, her family and friends in particular.
She was, in her belief and work, a champion of those who suffer. She
appreciated beauty: a flower, a play, a piece of music, a good meal,
a good wine.
When Joan retired, her toasters spoke of
how Joan taught them to appreciate the arts. She was a “Frequent
Flier” at the Newark Museum of Art. God knows how many of us were
the recipients of the little lovelies she found in their gift shop.
She loved dance and music; the New
Jersey Performing Arts Center was made for her.
It was how Joan expressed her
appreciation that I really loved. I’ll give you my best Joan
impression: “Oh, isn’t that be-e-e-e-you-u-u-u-u-ti-ful!”
I have the privilege, pride, joy - and
some frustration - of being Joan’s sister by birth and best friend
by choice. The bond between us is - I just can’t use the past tense
here - extraordinary. So please indulge this sister as I talk about
my sister and her life. We did so much together.
As little girls my mother dressed us
alike. People would say “Are you twins?”
We’d respond in unison, “No, we’re two
After I turned 30, I’d say “No, she’s 2
We always shared a bedroom. On Chapman
Street as we got older our mother offered us separate bedrooms. We
wouldn’t hear of it. We loved being together. We’d talk forever
after lights out and listen to Yankee games so Joan could hear how
her baseball Hero, Jerry Coleman, #42, was doing. I remember one
night Jerry got beaned and Joan let out a scream.
Our cover was
blown. Our father rushed into the room and did she get in trouble!
While Dad was angry, we both knew he was delighted that we shared
his love of the Yankees.
We went to Camp Notre Dame in New
Hampshire, St. Leo’s Grammar School, Archbishop Walsh High School
and Salve Regina College. We did not go to law school together, but
we did study for the bar. I held Joan’s yellow legal pads, I asked
the questions and Joan answered them. Every now and again I’d
say to Joan, “Are you sure you want to practice law? This is really
We shopped until we dropped at many a
mall. For the last several Christmases we’d find ourselves at
Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center once again for a
consultation. We’d always find our way to the gift shop and cracked
up laughing about our capacity to find unusual, unique shopping
Recently I met someone who graduated
with Joan from Walsh High. I said “You must know my sister, Joan
said “When I hear that name I think smart - she was the smartest
girl in our class. You never had to worry about that silence when no
one knows the answer. Joan always did.”
When she graduated
Salve and took the Graduate records exams she was in the top 2% in
Joan was not only smart, but deeply
committed to her work. Her coworkers admired her not only for her
legal expertise but also for the gently caring way she went about
getting the right results. Her colleagues affectionately called her
Saint Joan of Newark! We are so deeply touched by the throngs who
came to honor Joan yesterday. She made a difference in so many
We grew up in a wonderful neighborhood
on Chapman Street. Lots
of kids, lots of fun, lots of bike-riding, lots of stoop ball. The
boys used to call her Joan O’Beautiful. Of course they all wanted
her on their team. I on the other hand wore glasses at age three -
glasses then were made out of glass and I was warned that they could
break. Rather than catch a ball I’d put my hands over my face. So
you can imagine I was not a first round draft choice. Joan would
say, “Take me, take my sister.” She didn’t want me to feel left
On Christmas morning I’d be afraid Santa
had not yet left and Joan would always go downstairs first. For
years we got allergy shots - I’d start screaming at the doctor’s
door. Joan would always take my hand and say, “Kathy, I’ll go
first.” When we had our tonsils out, the plan was, Kathy first, to
contain the scene, but I had other plans. Joan volunteered to go
first. She wanted to show me it would be okay. When she was
slipping away from me a few days ago, I couldn’t help but think she
wanted me to know that it would be okay. Once again, she went first.
Joan decided to finish her
last two years of college with me at Salve. I remember her asking me
if I minded if she went to the college I had chosen. I was thrilled!
Once again off we went together on a new venture. We fell in love
with Newport, Narragansett Bay, Castle Hill, Five Mile Drive and the
R.I. Lunch. My father sent each of us $5 every week wrapped in a
paper towel inside an envelope. He said he couldn’t afford
stationery while sending two daughters to college. Joan was the
spender, I the saver. Without
fail Joan would come to my dorm grinning sheepishly. As soon as I
saw her I’d take out my fives, fan them and say “Did you come
because you missed your little sister?”
The night before I got married Joan and
I were in our bedroom drinking Black Russians. She, in her most
comforting big sister voice, said, “Kathy, you have nothing to worry
about. After all, you are marrying a man you hardly know!”
Joan loved to travel and went to all
sorts of exciting places in the world with dear friends. On two
occasions Joan and I went to Europe at the behest of her good
friends Madeline and Bill. Paris was wonderful but our trip to Italy
was my favorite. Joan and Bob went together first, then Joan and I
later. Bob said his trip was the hardest. I’d argue that mine was.
All he had to do was help Joan get the general lay of the land - I
got to get into all the details with Joan. She could take an hour to
appreciate one fresco. Do you know how many frescos there are in
We stayed in Lucca and
took a side trip to Assisi. We wanted one bag, to travel light. We
had so much fun deciding what we could share: makeup, hair brush,
deodorant, etc. We did take two toothbrushes. Then we had to decide
who would carry the bag. Joan said “Kathy, I have cancer, I’ve had
chemo.” So I carried the bag. For the rest of the trip I called Joan
“La’Chemo” and she called me “La’Burro”!
In the early years she was my protector.
Sometime in high school I became hers. Little did I know then that I
was a therapist-in-training.
At night I would fall asleep first. Joan would be up reading. I was
always a light sleeper. I’d hear her say, “Kathy , are you awake?”
And I’d say, “Joan, I am now.”
She’d tell me about whatever was
upsetting her. I’d get into the problem and before I knew it she’d
be asleep and I’d be awake problem-solving. This continued until the
end of her life. When she realized what happened she said, “Kathy, I
did it to you again.” She’d sleep and leave the worry to me. And I
did it well.
Every year for what seems like forever
Joan had her Christmas party. The menu stayed the same, tetrazinni,
salad and cranberry mold, the balloons were always there and the
cast of attendees rarely changed.
What you didn’t know was the leadup. She would get
overwhelmed and come to my house and ask me to help her get
organized. We’d do lists and my job would be to take on assignments
and then keep her on track. I’d call her up and say, “Did you do the
molds today?” I’d hear a giggle and “I did one. I’ll do the others
later.” It was our joke. Every year we did the list, it never
worked but Joan always thought it would. By her own admission Joan
The party started at 4 PM. Sue Schneider arrived
first with her Roll-Up Hors d'euvres. Joan would call from upstairs
as her guests were arriving, “Kathy, is that you?”
I’d go up to her bedroom as Joan came
out of the shower in her birthday suit. We’d both start to laugh,
and she’d say, “I’m so glad you’re here. What do you think I should
On Christmas Eve at my parents’ home
Joan would always want us to start early. We’d all be there, except
for Joan. Then Joan would festively arrive, Christmas pins on,
shopping bags in hand, and say, “Mom, where is your scotch tape and
scissors and do you have any wrapping paper?”
In December of 1992 the jolt came. Joan
was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer.
I kept saying over and
over, “She just can’t die early; she’s never been early in her life!
She just can’t!”
Then I found the stats on her type of
disease. She had a ten percent chance of surviving five years. That
was ten years ago!! She did what she always did. Her death just had
Joan was gentle but also
stubborn and strong. She was so extraordinarily valiant. She
made it so easy for us to forget that she was ill. Like the
energized bunny, she kept going and going.
As always, she continued to live in the
moment. She squeezed so much in; she had so much to do.
She had to see Brian and Greg get
married and become fathers. She had to see me become a grandmother
to Madeline, Bridgett and Dylan. She had to see Todd marry,
and spend as much time as she could being a part of the life of
Riley. She held on long enough to see Cameron come into the world.
I’m sure she waited so her Bob would have his grandson to help him
when she left.
With great grit she saw Marc graduate
from medical school.
She stayed long enough to help me say
goodbye to our father. She knew I couldn’t do it without her.
She had races to run,
S.H.A.R.E. Walks to walk with Joan’s team and with the financial
support of so many of you.
She needed more time with Madeline and
Bill, Ester and Vinnie, Sue and Bob, Debra and John, her friends
from work, Law School, S.H.A.R.E. and her long-time high school
friends, her dear friend Susan, Kathy, Doreen, Irene and Ginny,
otherwise known as The Golden Girls.
She needed more time with her Bob, more
time to enjoy his wonderful meals, trips to Barnes and Noble with
Riley and going out to dinner with friends.
With even greater effort she stayed to
see our mother celebrate her 90th birthday. She was so
worried about leaving her.
She would have squeezed in more if she
Joan was late, but she always showed up,
and so she did for her death.
My gentle, stubborn, independent,
private, loving, caring, giving, sister’s light went out on January
14. She left us with so many wonderful memories, so many special
In the last months of her life, when I
knew the end was near, I’d be down by the shore and see a
magnificent sunrise reflecting on the ocean and I’d think she would
soon be a part of this.
Since Joan appreciated beauty so much,
I’d like you to see Joan’s beautiful spirit in whatever you enjoy.
And Riley, who was Joan’s shining star, I want you to know Joan is
I can imagine hearing Joan giggle now, saying,
“Kathy, I did it to you again.” So I’ll say, “Joan, I’m awake now.
I’ll worry and do the best I can. Rest, my dear Sister, in peace you