Ode to Joy

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A very dear friend of mine passed away this week. Her name was Joy.

When we first met she referred to me as Mr Cooper and I referred to her as Mrs Willis. Retail was a much more formal business in those days and the use of surnames stuck. I played a very fine Captain Peacock to her mischievous Mrs Slocombe at Heelas, a John Lewis department store in Reading. ย Joy had been recruited from the ailing COOP department store around the corner, closing to make way for Primark. She had already enjoyed a 40-year-long career in retail spanning both sides of the Atlantic and I supposed she might stay for a couple of years before deciding to call it a day. Born in Reading, she never lost the Californian twang she’d picked up whilst working across the pond. Even in those days Joy possessed a level of experience and dedication to shopkeeping that was increasingly rare. Despite an age gap of over 30 years, we were friends from the start. Her dry humour, worldly wisdom and love of shopping were her trademarks. Joy knew retail, continuing to work well into her seventies.

The tragedy was that ill-health set in on the eve of Joy’s retirement, meaning that she could never receive the gift of time that she so richly deserved. Looking back, I wonder how much she would have enjoyed a “normal” retirement. Her life was her work and the people she worked with. She was married once, in America, but seldom talked about this chapter in her life. After I moved on from Heelas, Joy would come on annual visits to Broadstairs, which she frequently declared was one of her “five favourite places to visit”. She had an enormous appetite for drinking red wine, eating and talking, which is why we got on so famously. If we shopped together the outcome was always expensive, fun and frivolous. We egged one another on terribly. She had the same eclectic taste as me.


Joy at Whitstable Castle in June 2013
Joy at Whitstable Castle in June 2013


I do not yet know the exact circumstances of Joy’s death, but she had been desperately unwell for some time. Part of me regrets that we saw so little of one another in recent years, yet rarely did a week go by when one of us did not post a card to the other, transmitting greetings and snippets of news between Reading and Broadstairs in the good old-fashioned way. Joy dabbled with e-mails but neither of us enjoyed sending them as much as we enjoyed picking up a pen. I kept a drawer full of cards that I knew Joy would like: I cannot explain why, I just knew she would appreciate them. Another part of me is glad that I will remember Joy as a reasonably healthy person: it was clear from later correspondence that she wasn’t keen for me to see her in an enfeebled state, which she would have hated. Joy was, above all things, a proud, independent lady and l loved her.

I shall mourn for Joy because she is unique and irreplaceable in my life. An older, wiser, occasionally lonely figure with whom I had a special bond. She began her life in small-town Reading before spreading her wings, ultimately to have them clipped again by family commitments and ill-health. This is a reminder to us all to enjoy each day as it comes, taking nothing for granted. Today I will write Joy one last card and drink a glass of red wine in her honour. I know she’d have done the same for me.


Joy and I having lunch at The Watch House, June 2013
Joy and I having lunch at The Watch House, June 2013



Categories: Flowers, Musings

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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49 comments On "Ode to Joy"

  1. Oh Dan, you gave Joy such a beautiful eulogy…made me wish I had know her as well. Friends like that are so very precious and sadly often so few and far between. I will heed your words and truly value those friends I have. I am having a Friday night vino as I read your post so I will raise a glass for Joy…and you xo

  2. Loved your Ode to Joy: beautifully and sensitively expressed. Maybe she is sitting up there on a cloud, relishing what you have written. Your posts are always a cheering window in an otherwise increasingly alarming world. Up here in the Scottish Borders, in our peaceful country home, we are insulated to a degree, but no one is, entirely.

    1. Yes, I think (and hope) that outside London perhaps people don’t feel it quite as accutely as we do. But alarming is the word for it, until it makes you numb.

      Whilst there are not many clouds around in Broadstairs today, I am sure Joy is in a much happier place, with her scrap books and a big glass of merlot.

  3. You and Joy were lucky to have found each other and enjoyed a friendship that doesn’t come along all that often. The idea of a person sitting down and writing a card picked out for the other person is unique and special indeed. I know there is a need for quick communication like texting but it is so dry and means nothing. A handwritten card is like getting an Academy Award text from a real friend. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. ๐Ÿ™‚ We never wrote anything terribly profound to one another, but I so enjoyed receiving Joy’s cards through the post – often the only thing that was not a bill or junk mail. Sometimes at Christmas we’d send each other three Christmas cards, starting in November!

  4. Oh Dan, I am so sorry. I know what the loss of a dear one means. As you know I lost my dad in April and still cannot believe it. I can feel your pain – dear friends like Joy are simply irreplacable and there will always be a special place for them in our hearts… Thank you for sharing your mourning for Joy with us – your posts are always so personal and thoughtful. I am sure Joy is happy somewhere in Heaven ( wherever it is and whatever it is called ). Love the idea of sending three Christmas cards to each other ๐Ÿ™‚ Your friendship with Joy was extraordinary. Sorry for your loss.

    1. Thanks Paul. My sadness cannot compare with yours. I know you felt the loss of your dad so acutely. It was cathartic to write my tribute to Joy. She’d have appreciated the bottle of wine I have just finished, and I would have enjoyed it much more if she had been here to share it with me. Wishing you a lovely weekend. Dan.

  5. Joy sounds like a lovely lady and as lucky to have had you for a friend as you were to have her! What a wonderful way of words you have, to write such a moving tribute. As mentioned before, I’ll be raising a glass of red to you both, tonight xx

  6. Very poignant post in many ways. I can understand how Joy would have wished to keep you from seeing her in ill-health and so lovely that you corresponded in such a lasting manner. It is definitely true that we need to make now special as we don’t know which moment may be our last.

    1. It is difficult to think that only 3 years ago she was fit as a fiddle, and then one thing followed another. Up until her last few cards she retained her characteristic positivity although clearly her health was getting her down. Thanks for your comment, it’s appreciated.

  7. So sorry to read your post but such lovely caring words for your friend. She sounds like a lady who was a lot of fun and lived up to her name as she clearly brought you such joy! Postcards are brilliant and so much better than emails and I am pleased you corresponded so frequently especially as you didn’t see her so much of late. A lovely eulogy indeed.

  8. What a wonderful tribute to a beautiful friend. I’m sure every time you raise your glass and have a laugh with friends she will be smiling from above. Life is too short. ๐Ÿท

    1. Indeed. I have been thinking about Joy a lot this weekend. She so loved Broadstairs, and getting out and about. At least she is no longer suffering having had her mobility taken away from her. Are you back at home now? How was your holiday?

  9. Lovely post Dan. Joy was clearly one of those special people we get to meet in life if we’re very lucky and no doubt she felt the same way about you.
    Love her smile!

  10. Dear Dan, this was the loveliest tribute to a true friend, and friendships like that are rare and precious. Last week was the anniversary of Mr TT and I losing a friend who made the world a better place for knowing that she was in it, so I understand the void that Joy’s passing will leave. This friend too was struck down with illness a few months after retirement, she was a dedicated and caring hospital doctor. Life is just too unfair at times. I am glad that you enjoyed Joy’s friendship for so many years and shared your love and friendship for each other. RIP Joy, beautiful Angel’s Fishing Rods seem very appropriate.

    1. Thank you for spotting that little detail Tina. I searched high and low through my photos to find something appropriate that was not a rose or a lily. I am sorry your friend was also denied her retirement, especially after dedicating her life to caring for others. Her memory lives on with you both.

  11. I am so sorry to read of your loss. That was a lovely and thoughtful tribute to Joy. Thank you for sharing. I think it is a nice reminder to us all to cherish our dear friends. I lift my glass to you and Joy; cheers to your special friendship ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Dan — what a beautiful tribute to a remarkable woman. Your words were a special way of introducing her and her spirit and energy to the rest of the world. How fortunate for both of you that your paths crossed. Be well.

  13. Thank you for sharing this part of your life story, Dan. And for writing with such respect and caring for your friendship . . . a reminder to us all of the precious and ultimately temporary nature of our connections.

  14. You couldn’t have said it beter than with Dieramas! I think of all flowering plants they’re my absolute favorite. Walking through the already russet dew wet tall veld grass to suddenly see colour! Precious lovely flowers dangling in the wind is just so incredibly special. A reall Joy!

    I have Auriol Batten’s beutiful illustrations in O.M. Hilliard and B.L. Birtt’s “Dierama, The Hairbells of Africa” nothing I like better curled up on a rainy day with this magical book looking at these wonderful flowers. I get the most profound sense of peace imaginable. I then go to The Grass Aloes, Charles Craib, followed by The Moraeas Peter Goldbblatt & Fay Anderson. Always in that order.

    A lovely, charming tribute to a dear friend.

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