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Joyce Linton: The Lady with the Voice

Yesterday, in a beautiful sung requiem at St. Agnes, we paid our final respects to our friend Joyce Linton. I had known Joyce for quite some time before I ever actually met her because we tended to sit in the same neighborhood of pews (in the back of the church towards the left) at the 11 o’clock Mass at St Agnes every Sunday. While a schoolteacher by profession, she was also a trained vocal musician, and her voice carried as the congregation belted out our Credos and Glorias. She became known to me as “the Lady with the Voice”, and every so often I would see her making her way towards the church just before 11:00 and, without knowing her name, I would say to myself “That’s the Lady with the Voice”.

Eventually, I got to know Joyce well, and joined the regular tea-drinking crowd of which she was a devoted and prominent member. Vim. Moxie. Determination. Those are the words that come to mind when I think about Joyce, a spirited lady if ever there was one. But she was, also, a woman with a certain style. Think of 1950s New York, swanky, bright, and modern, but still traditional, and never out of date. That was Joyce.

Now, if there was one thing that undoubtedly went along with Joyce’s vim, moxie, and determination, it was that she had an opinion. She enjoyed a vibrant discussion and the interaction of ideas, but she made certain that even if you didn’t happen to share her opinion, you would at least be familiar with it. As it happens, Joyce and I were lucky enough to agree with one another on many things, but by no means all things. More than once did I attempt to refute her position on this, that, or another thing. After the back-and-forth had exhausted itself, she would say, “Well, I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that”, I would shrug my shoulders and say “Perhaps”, and we would sip our tea and rejoin the larger conversation.

She was a woman who was grateful for the graces in her life. She was grateful for the blessings of her family, though it was not without hardships. She was grateful for the magnificent inheritance of centuries of art and culture she was born on the receiving end of. She was a patriot if ever there was one — a proud American, but one with a devoted filial love of Europe, and especially of Italy.

I think the first time Joyce visited Italy was when she did her voice studies in Florence in the 1970s, and she never stopped going back. She had a devotion to Padre Pio and paid her respects to the great saint by pilgrimming to San Giovanni Rotondo. Towards the later years of her life she had a special love and appreciation for summer days spent at Gardone on the shores of Lake Garda, enjoying the intellectual stimulation of the annual summer symposium organized by the Roman Forum. The Italian airs invigorated her Celtic blood and she would return to New York in late summer rejuvenated and refreshed.

She always knew lots of things about New York. You can get great freshly baked bread here. They do a good brunch there. If you really want to do X, then you’ve got to Y at Z on Nth Street. I remember one drizzly November Sunday afternoon Joyce showed me “the best way to cut through Saks” as she and I made our way to the annual Choral Evensong & Flag Service for the Patriotic, Historical, and Hereditary Societies at the Church of St. Thomas, Fifth Avenue.

Joyce loved her job as a high school teacher at Manhattan Center on the Harlem River, just a few doors away from Our Lady of Mount Carmel on 115th Street. Any and all bureaucratic encroachments upon the teaching profession were vociferously opposed by her, and she had an enormous pride when her students did well (especially her girls). Latin was another excuse to spend time in Italy, where she studied the language under the famous Fr. Reggie Foster in Rome. She taught English as well, and was adamant that her students learn important lessons from writers like Orwell and Wilde, rather than a rote set of facts or ideas or quotes. She was always on the lookout for a new way of explaining the old truths to the students in her charge. She loved them, but she also loved her colleagues, and more than once had us praying for this one or that one.

When she was first diagnosed with cancer, many of us prepared ourselves mentally for The End. I think Joyce said to herself “Well I’m not having any of that.” She beat it the first time round (remember what I said about vim, moxie, determination?) to the surprise of many, probably her devoted doctor most of all. She went back to work, and her own hair grew back, allowing her to dispense with the peppy wig she had specially styled. Life, it seemed, returned to normal, for one last Halcyon day before the Hour approached. When the time did appear on the horizon, her descent was rapid. I’m glad I had a chance to see her one last time, surrounded as she was by friends in Lenox Hill Hospital.

Joyce would have loved her requiem, the priest in mournful black trimmed by resplendent gold, acolytes and torch-bearers aiding in the sanctuary, the Dies Irae rising from the choir loft, and those who knew and loved her pleading God’s mercy and quick remission of her earthly transgressions. It was beautiful — as the most beautiful things are — because it pointed towards that Heavenly place from whence our only glories come, where we pray “the Lady with the Voice” will enjoy perpetual light and rest eternal.

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei.
Requiescat in pace.

Amen.
This post was published on Sunday, January 10th, 2010 8:45 pm. It has been categorised under Journal New York and been tagged under , .
Comments
  1. Charles A. Coulombe
    11 January 2010
    1:34 am

    Seeing Joyce at St. Agnes and the following tea was always one of the high points on my all-too-rare visits to my native city. She was indeed all the things you have said Andrew; those of us who knew her are all poorer by her loss. When those she was fond of died, no one mourned more deeply — but no one prayed for their souls more fervently, nor more joyously remembered them as inspirations on the continuing travail of life. May it be so for us as well. Requiescat in pace.

  2. Dino Marcantonio
    11 January 2010
    7:12 am

    Well said. May she rest in peace.

  3. Steve M
    11 January 2010
    10:54 am

    Thank you Andrew–it would be impossible to capture everything that made Joyce a wonderful friend. But you have portrayed some of her essence.

  4. Fr. Richard Trezza, O.F.M.
    11 January 2010
    11:56 am

    I am not often distracted while celebrating Mass, but as I sung Joyce’s Requiem, I continued to see her in Gardone and hearing her voice rise as she was in the midst of airing an opinion. I, along with others, was surprised and pleased when Joyce triumphed over her initial battle with cancer. Her returning vim and vigor, so evident as she danced in Gardone Sopra’s square at the Ballo that summer, was cause for celebration. Her traditional faith heart would align itself with God’s will, but what if God were extending a special grace to be taken advantage of in order to cheat the disease. She picked up on this and showed us all the wonders of human cooperation with the Divine. Just before Christmas, while I was anointing her, she had a radiant smile as the familiar Scriptures were read to her and received anointing on her senses with a delight which said that everything would be alright. At that point, her will was God’s will. May she experience eternal rest.

  5. Judy D'Agostino
    11 January 2010
    1:54 pm

    From deep down in my heart, thank you, Andrew, for the beautiful tribute to our dear friend Joyce. I think you really captured her heart and soul. Joyce and I shared the same birthday, a love for Italy (I will especially miss going back and forth with her on e-mail in Italian) and a detest for abortion. She was a special friend. May she rest in peace with Our Lord.

  6. Mary Durkan
    11 January 2010
    2:25 pm

    We ran a much shorter tribute to Joyce in Our Saviour’s bulletin this past week.
    “Children’s Religious Education News: Several people commented that the singing at the children’s Advent Pageant on Dec. 13th was especially lovely this year. We credit that to Ms. Joyce Linton, who taught music, Latin, and English in a Manhattan Public School. For five years, Joyce lovingly taught and directed our children in the singing of Christmas Carols. She was with us on December 13th even while in great pain. Sadly, Joyce lost her battle with breast cancer on Sunday, January 3rd, the Feast of the Epiphany. She now may be found directing the heavenly choir. Kindly pray for the repose of her soul.” Joyce, we will miss you.

  7. Rolf Pentzlin
    11 January 2010
    4:09 pm

    I am so glad I saw Joyce several times during my last visit to New York (in October 2009). When we parted, she said that this year she would finally come and visit me in Cologne, something she had been wanting to do for a long time.

    The statue of Padre Pio which Joyce and me purchased in San Giovanni Rotondo in 2007 and which has been in my church in Cologne since then will always remind me of her.

    Much as I am saddened by her death I am comforted by the news on this website about her beautiful requiem mass at St. Agnes.

    I will continue to pray for the repose of Joyce’s soul.

  8. 11 January 2010
    8:31 pm

    I am sad to hear the news, but also glad for the fine tribute. I do not suppose I have seen Joyce in 10 years or so, but I used to go to St. Agnes often, (accompanying one of the FSSP priests) and I always enjoyed her company. We used to talk Latin (as we both taught it), and music, and the traditional mass, and many other things. She was a truly charming and beautiful Christian lady! After the octave of the Epiphany is over, I will offer the office of the dead on her behalf. Many thanks Mr. Cusack!

    Michael LaRue

  9. Alex Sepkus
    11 January 2010
    11:20 pm

    Dear Mr. Cusack,

    Many thanks for writing this beautiful tribute for Joyce. She was so properly named.

  10. 17 January 2010
    4:50 pm

    A fine post, Mr. Cusack. Allow me to express my sympathies for your loss and the loss of all of Joyce’s friends.

  11. Jennifer Roche
    23 January 2010
    9:59 am

    I would like to join the chorus of those who remembered Joyce. Thank you to Andrew for such a fine portrait. My heart sunk when I heard the news; I hadn’t realized she was so ill. First Walter, then Joyce…this life is short, eternity is long. May she rest in peace, and may we all Keep the Faith and join her in that eternal rest.

    In the Sacred Heart of Our Lord– that mysterious Love who upholds us all in times of sorrow!

    Jennifer Roche

  12. Mureen Flanagan
    6 February 2010
    11:20 am

    I went to high school with (Sacred Heart Academy, Hempstead) and I was online today trying to search for her when this RIP came up in Google. She was always as you describe her – a fiesty woman with a great heart. I am sorry that I missed catching up with her, but so glad that she had so many wonderful friends.

    Blessings to all,
    Maureen McNamara Flanagan

  13. Abigail Palmer
    24 February 2010
    11:06 pm

    I am also saddened to hear of Joyce’s passing. All the way from the West Coast, we had heard that she was rallying and doing well, and I was happy for her. For all of the reasons that you have listed above, I was also not surprised that, for a short while, it seemed that she had cancer “beat”- that would be her way.
    What a generous soul- we will remember her in our prayers. Thank you for this tribute.

  14. Maureen Gallagher Sweeney
    26 February 2010
    11:43 am

    I join with those who are saddened to hear of Joyce’s passing. It has been many, many years since last we met but it seems she remained the same dear lady I so well remember.
    Thank you for these beautiful words.
    May she rest in peace.

  15. Beth Santini
    15 March 2010
    2:14 am

    My very good friend Joyce passed away on January 3rd ,2010 after a long and valiant battle with cancer. ( I learned of her last battle while I was in Ireland visiting my son Christopher for Christmas. ) Joyce fell in her classroom on Dec.9th and fractured her pelvis. But instead of going to the doctor, she went back to school and completed her lesson plans and then went to a party! A few days later she was persuaded to go to the doctor who immediately called an ambulance. After that her condition continued to deteriorate. I learned about all of this while visiting my son Chris in Ireland and when I got back to NY I changed my flights so that I could visit her in the Hospital on the 2nd and 3rd of January (a few hours before she died.) She had a peaceful death. Her wake and burial Mass in New York were quite amazing. She had so many diverse groups of friends and relatives and yet made everyone feel quite singular. People from her oratorio society, opera group, water aerobics group, movie group, american ballet, latin tridentine mass group, school faculty and students as well as other family (many cousins) and friends were there to celebrate her life. Kathy McShane, Greg and Heather,Santini. Elizabeth and Eileen Myles (SHA) and Karen Kearns and I along with Danny and Jean Morelli, Richard Snyder( Joyce’s former Garden City next door neighbor) and Joyce’s cousins Kathy, Ed , Nona etc and friends celebrated her memory. Richard gave a beautiful eulogy. Joyce taught Latin. English and Music at the High School of Mathematics and Science in Harlem, NY. Some of you saw her at Sally’s Mass, she was quite ill at the time but took the day off from school to come to Sally’s funeral. Joyce made every effort to be there for every significant event in my life. She was my very best friend. We spent a summer together in Italy that I will never forget but nothing can my good friend Joyce. I will miss my friend and all her charming eccentricities.

  16. NoraLee Montemarano
    10 January 2011
    2:54 pm

    Can’t believe it has been a year, already. Thank you for this stirring tribute. I find myself listening to a tape of Joyce (with Valerie K) singing at St. Anne’s. Both Joyce and the church are gone. I am sure Joyce has had a chance to spend time with the REAL St. Anne in the interim. She was a devotee of the saint, as evidenced by the multiple St. Anne “biographies” and novena booklets she left behind. Lucky saint, getting serenaded by Joyce. It’s a picture I carry within myself today, as I am STILL waiting for an open day on the Holy Innocents’ Mass calendar to have a mass said for Joyce. As soon as the 2012 calendar opens, I shall not be remiss in claiming January 3rd for a memorial.

    Best to all in the new year. Joyce, I miss you every single day. You are in my prayers.

  17. Beth Santini
    15 January 2011
    7:12 am

    Nora, I too cannot believe a year has gone by since Joyce passed. I often find myself about to call her and get her sage advice. Joyce and I were friends from 7th grade on, she added so much dimension to my life. I am sorry for the loss you have experienced. Like you, I miss my good friend so very much, Beth

  18. Beth Santini
    16 January 2011
    7:08 am

    Oh my gosh Nora if you have a tape of Joyce singing, I would love to have a copy. Joyce sang “Ave Maria”, “Panis Angelicus” and “What have I rendered to my Lord” as well as “Gallway Bay” at my wedding. Her voice was beyond description. For the last two years I spent Christmas Eve in Naas, Ireland where Celine Byrne sang “O Holy Night” she is on youtube. her voice and passion remind me of Joyce. If you can uplaod the tapes to youtube that would be great.

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