Beloved and legendary former Staples High School English teacher Joy Walker died in her sleep on June 6. She was 89.
A descendant of Revolutionary War general Philip Schuyler, she grew up in a South Compo Road home that had been in her family since the 1700s. She graduated from Staples High School (Class of 1940) and Bennington College, where she majored in English and minored in modern dance. She received her master’s in education from the University of Bridgeport, and taught at Staples for over 30 years.
Her interests included literary arts, gardening, golf, tennis, fishing, dancing, bird watching, collecting wildflowers, playing Charades, winning at Scrabble and completing New York Times crossword puzzles. She inspired her 6 grandchildren with her vivid imagination, and great joy for life.
Joy’s son Jon sends along these thoughts:
Joy was a very well-rounded Stapleite. Her range of interests would be impossible today: Inklings, French Club, Art Club, basketball, hockey, tennis, cheerleading, junior play, senior play, yearbook editor. Plus, she set the school record for the 110-yard high hurdles.
Joy dated Pete Wassell for several years. He was killed in World War II, along with his brothers Harry and Bud. (Joy’s sister Betsy married the surviving Wassell brother, George).
Joy also dated Alan Senie, who became a noted Westport attorney. The initials “JS & AS” — with a heart — were carved on a wall of the Compo bathhouses. They remained there until the day the wooden structure was demolished.
Martha Graham was her instructor during summer dance sessions at Bennington. Graham called her “more of an acrobat and a great leaper than a true modern dancer.”
Joy and Betsy would get up at 6 a.m. on “Ladies Day” at Longshore, to be the first on the course. They played barefoot, the better to muck out balls when the 12th hole tide was low. She had a natural swing, and shot regularly in the 80s.
She was a daredevil. When I told her I jumped off the cliff at Devil’s Den, she described how she would jump into the Saugatuck from the top of the Merritt Parkway bridge trestle.
A political activist, Joy was instrumental in establishing Project Concern, which brought Bridgeport students to Westport.
In 1970, when I was a freshman at the University of North Carolina, I bumped into Joy on the Washington, DC mall during a Vietnam War protest. There were a million people — and neither of us knew the other would be there.
Joy felt very strongly that Shakespeare meant for Hamlet to be just 18 or 19 years old. She said that famous lines like “To be or not to be” read much differently — and, she believed, more poignantly — when you think of Hamlet as the age of a high school senior.
I’m in Mom’s camp on this one. Like her, I find nothing more inspiring than to see kids of high school age finding their strengths and true identities on high school playing fields and stages.
(A celebration of Joy’s life will be held Saturday, August 18 (11 a.m.) at the Christ Church in Roxbury, Conn. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Philip Schuyler Journalism Award, c/o Staples Tuition Grants, PO Box 5159, Westport, CT 06881; click here to contribute online. To place an online condolence, click here.)