Joyce Smith 1928-2021

We are very sorry to report the death of Joyce Smith, who was the club's oldest member, and who has died recently at the age of 93.

Éamonn Richardson has kindly provided this tribute to Joyce. 

Joyce Haigh was born in St Helens, Lancashire in 1928, one of a family of 3 boys, and 1 girl.

At the outbreak of WW2, Joyce’s father insisted that she learn German in school, “just in case”. She spent some nights in the family Anderson shelter doing her German homework, whilst shielding from the bombs being dropped by the German airforce on the locality.

Towards the end of the war, Joyce was old enough to enrol in the WRACS (Women’s Royal Auxiliary Corps) , her preferred service option, as she knew she would be posted to Torquay. When questioned why Torquay was of specific interest to her, she said that Torquay was well known for large numbers of serving male Canadian personnel, with the lure of chocolates and ladies stockings very much part of the draw. When I asked what she, Joyce, had to do to acquire said stockings/chocolate, Joyce firmly told me “I didn’t do that”.

In 1947, after the War, with her German language skills under arm, Joyce volunteered to spend time in Germany helping to rebuild youth hostels which had been destroyed in the war. This led to her brother, Rex, archly observing that as part of Bomber Command, he had spent time blowing Germany to bits, and his sister was spending time putting it together again.

In the early 1950s, her interest in things Canadian still to the fore, Joyce and her then boyfriend applied to go to Canada to work. Alas for Joyce, her medical revealed she had TB, and her application was turned down. She spent several months recuperating at home, and later, in what must appear extraordinary in this day and age, several months in a Swiss sanatorium, fully funded by the NHS. Try asking your GP to find a budget to send you to recuperate in Switzerland these days!

After her recovery, Joyce was able to realise her ambition to work in North America, but in the USA rather than Canada, and her au pair jobs there convinced her that she should like to be a primary school teacher.

Back in Britain, Joyce trained at a Teacher Training College in Camberwell (which she liked), but was less happy when the College moved to Bromley, which she found suburban and boring.

Joyce met her husband Ralph, in the late 50s, and they adopted 2 children, Vicki and Stephen. Because Britain was still in recovery mode from the War, there was a big demand for teachers and Joyce’s employers were helpful in ensuring childcare for her young family, so that she did not have to choose between looking after her own children and her teaching career.

Of course, we must not forget that we know Joyce because she was a runner and a member of our club. The first record of Joyce in SRC is in the October 1984 handicap, when she ran a time of 30 minutes 42 seconds. Other notable races are the Burnham Beeches Half Marathon in September 1985 (1.44) and Wimbledon Half Marathon in September 1989 (1.46). Joyce did a full Marathon in Melbourne, Australia when she was over 70 years old and told me she won her age category, but we have no record of that event. Nor of the marathon she did in Orlando , Florida. That’s not important… the fact is that Joyce was “game” for a challenge, and the frail older lady of later years was not typical of Joyce the give-it-a-go athlete.

Covid 19 has done few favours to any of us. To Joyce it was particularly hard. After a stroke in January 2020, she lost her sight, and she was unable to see her family during the first lockdown. Living in a new place, with no sight, no mobility, no loved ones near her… it does not bear thinking about. Her constitution must have been very strong to last 18 months. She is now at peace, and whilst there is sadness there must also be relief that there is no more suffering.

Serpentine Running Club is about runners and athletics. But is it is also about making connections with kindred spirits and being part of a community. Joyce embraced this side with gusto and we were so lucky to have someone of her charm, friendliness and “good-eggness” amongst our members. In recent years, Joyce said that she did not want to be a burden to anyone. I always reassured her she was not. Having a very special senior member present at the Last Friday of the Month, or the Handicap, was a privilege, not a burden. On many occasions I saw her walking off arm in arm towards the Dell Café with a younger Serpie member, who she had only just met for the first time. Complete strangers warmed to Joyce. We were lucky to have her. May she rest in peace.

Submitted: 10 August 2021