by cheri block sabraw
Around a table for 12 or so students, 20 of us sat waiting for Dr. Edward Steidle to enter Margaret Jacks Hall and begin our 4-year academic journey with his first lecture on the book (tablets) The Epic of Gilgamesh. I looked around at all of the faces, young and old, so full of hesitation or anticipation or joy.
One of them was actually named Joy. And last week, she was killed in a cycling accident at the young age of 50. She left an 8-year-old son, several yellow Labradors, and friends far and wide, who are stunned that someone so full of life could have it severed in such a violent manner.
The news outlets predictably have focused their news coverage on Joy’s business achievements–that she had been the CFO of Amazon, shepherding it to its IPO, that she had a 175 I.Q., that she, as a high-school dropout, had graduated from Harvard’s Business/Law program with an MBA/JD degree.
But who was she without these tags?
I shared five classes with Joy, the last one taken several years ago, The Meaning of Life: Can We Find it in Great Literature?
One night, the professor, Scotty McLennan, asked each of us if we had thought about our own death.
When it came to my turn, I shared some hackneyed and predictable statement that” life is for the living “(blah, blah) and “oh,” I added, “I just want to make sure I am living a full life”(ho hum, ho hum).
Joy jumped into the interchange, as I remember it.
She added some Petrol to the buggy I was driving and suddenly it turned into an F-16 jet.
She insisted that we must not be afraid to live life afraid of losing life–that there was work to be done in the world and sometimes that work was messy.
When Scotty McLennan pressed her to elaborate, she said that one of her biggest fears was that when her life was over, she might not have done enough.
In that spirit, Joy had formed the Beagle Foundation and was heavily invested in wildlife and natural resources preservation.
She piloted her own plane up to Montana (or maybe it was Canada) to rescue a baby bear whose mother had died. She sent my friend Ann and me pictures of this event, a small bear in an airline shipping crate tucked behind the passenger seat, filled with her own little cub, her son.
Joy was one of those people unaffected by status, money, and power. She was personable, humble, curious, and alive. She had dark brown almond-shaped eyes which at times, looked pensively around the table, searching for intellectual connection. Soft-spoken and funny, she was quick to whip out her iPad and show us pictures of her son’s Halloween costumes, her dogs, her other animals.
She was a splendid human being.