JOYCE MARION MILLER (NEE DAHL)

REMEMBERANCE

On behalf of the entire Miller and Dahl Families I wish to express our sincere and grateful thanks to the caregivers, doctors, nurses and blood donors who contributed to the comfort and care of our beloved Joyce and to the priests, Mother Union and Prayer Group of the St Andrew Parish Church who provided spiritual fellowship and support to her when she became homebound.

Joyce Marion Dahl, daughter of Ernest and Louise Dahl, was born on August 26, 1921. However, the public record lists the day as August 29th. She was the sixth and last child of her parents and their only daughter. Only one of the five sons survived past the age of two years. Joyce was doubly precious. She was the only girl and one of the two that survived to adulthood. Hence, her pet name, Dearest, given by her parents or some variation, followed her for life. Mother Dear, Mamma D and Aunt Dearest are others variations.

Joyce received her education at the Franklin Town Elementary School. Her further education was in the school of life.

Recounting the long and fruitful live of Joyce Marion Miller provides great snapshots and insights into Jamaica as it has been shaped over the last 100 years. Her life can be divided into four identifiable segments.

  • First, the religiously, socially and politically conscious teenager and young wife
  • Second, the Stay-at-home Mother and Manager of Supplementary Family Income Generating activities.
  • Third, the Entrepreneurial Grandmother and Surrogate Mother
  • Fourth, the Matriarch of the Miller family who commuted between Jamaica and Canada

Common and constant threads that ran through these four stages were engagement in community life; concern and compassion for people especially those experiencing difficulties or being in need; selflessness and generosity.

Joyce Miller: The Conscious Teenager and Young Wife

Joyce seems to have gotten her social and political consciousness from her mother’s side of the family during a period of social and political awakening in the 1930s which coincided with the coming to her own maturity. Her mother, Louise, and Amy Jacques-Garvey attended Deaconess Home School, now St Hugh’s, and were life-long friends. Her aunt, Eva Brooks nee Aldred was the female President of the UNIA in New York. When Marcus Garvey returned to Jamaica and held meetings at Edelweisse Park on Slipe Road on Sundays, Marcus and Amy, had Sunday dinner at the Dahl’s home. This was the precursor to Joyce becoming a founding member of the People’s National Party when it was formed in September 1938 and to which she retained life-long allegiance.

One of the first expressions of her Christian conviction comes from the fact that as a teenager she became a member of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) to which she also retained a life-long commitment.

On February 15, 1939 she was given in marriage to Percy Lincoln Miller. When he died on August 2, 1997 they had been married for 58 years. Together, they brought up eleven children, ten whom are alive and are present here today. The eldest son, Lloyd died in November 2012.

Joyce Miller: The Stay-at-home Mother and Manager of Supplementary Family Income

Percy and Joyce shared definite ideas about family, country, and nation-building. They believed that building family was indispensable to nation-building. They believed in self-reliance. They believed in mutual and reciprocal duties and obligations. They believed in equality and justice. Accordingly, they organized their family and household, consistent with these beliefs.

To begin with, their idea of family was not nuclear. Almost always there were at least three generations in their household. For several decades there were four generations in the household. When children or grandchildren came home from school there was always an adult member of the family to greet them, to find out what happened, to supervise homework, to give guidance and encouragement. We saw our parents care for one of their aunts and both of their mothers, in the home, until they all passed.

Percy was the breadwinner. Joyce was the sales manager and bookkeeper of family self-reliance and supplementary income-generating activities. The family grew vegetables; reared chickens for meat and eggs, reared goats for meat and milk; and cows for milk. All for its own consumption. The surplus from these activities were sold in the neighbourhood. This supplemented the family income.

The household rose at 5.00 am every morning. The older children all had daily duties. These duties were gendered. They had to be done before school in the morning, and where necessary after school as well. The girls had duties in the house under the supervision of Joyce. The boys had duties related to the yard and agricultural activities, under the supervision of Percy. Normally, the family eats breakfast and dinner together each day, except on Saturdays.

Sunday had its special routine. Attendance of church and Sunday school were mandatory. Joyce that led in this matter. Sunday dinner and supper were special. Dinner included rice and peas and two types of meat. Supper allowed Joyce to express her expertise as the baker of mouth-watering puddings and cakes and of mixing delicious drinks and the ingredients of various types of homemade ice cream.

At the end of each school-term, all school reports were reviewed at a family meeting. If there was less than satisfactory performance in any subject the particular child had to give an account as well as a plan for improvement next term.

Behind their backs, the children named them Admiral Percy and General Joyce. This was because they spoke with one voice and acted in concert. It was totally futile to make any complaint of one to the other, without being rebuked by both.

Truth requires that we recall that Admiral Percy and General Joyce had fun-loving dimensions. Family life was not only about daily duties, work, school and weekly routines. At least twice per year, they could organize a party to which you could invite your friends. The living and dining rooms were clear of all furniture. There was music, dancing, and food sufficient. Probably this was one reason why our home became a popular place in the neighbourhood. Joyce liked to shop. We enjoyed the results of the shopping. She was a fashion-forward lady who loved the colour red.

Taking note of the Tributes paid by the Rt. Honorable P. J. Patterson and Dr. D. K. Duncan about her involvement in the political life of the country and her allegiance to the PNP, I will only make two additional comments. First, there were several members of her father’s family, who she loved dearly, who were die-hard Laborites. This made no difference whatsoever to their fellowship and friendship as a family. Second, during my tenure as Chairman of the EAC and Electoral Commission, the PNP lost both Local Government and General Elections. This made no difference whatsoever to our mother/son relationship. I cannot say that she was not a disappointment but she accepted the losses as being fair and square. Above all Joyce Marion Miller was a Jamaican patriot.

Joyce Miller: The Entrepreneurial Grandmother and Surrogate Mother

As Kingston changed, the children grew up, the older ones left home and as the family moved from the Molynes area to Leas Flat in Red Hills, patterns changed. Joyce became an entrepreneur and a working grandmother. The products of her great culinary skills, previously only enjoyed by family and friends, became commercially available at Three Finger Jack’s Eatery and also at a School Canteen. She also ran a Ginger Beer business.  She also got her driver’s license, acquired a Morris Minor and became mobile. These ventures started based on her socialist principles but the businesses just about broke even. A friend told her that her patties tasted great but was too cheap, thus arousing suspicion of quality. The advice was to increase the price in order to increase sales, which she did. Sales soared and with it profitability sufficient for her to add a gourmet restaurant to her group of businesses.

With the children leaving home, there was space. Joyce became surrogate mother to many who came to live in the home for periods ranging from a few months to several years. For sake of accuracy, those of us who remained in Jamaica recently attempted a count. We agreed that there were at least twelve. These included grandchildren, relatives, and children of friends just to name a few categories.

It must be noted that during this period, Joyce not only continued her political activities, but was a member of the Executive of the YWCA, Chairman of the Board of the Tarrant Primary School, Member of the Board of the Tarrant Secondary School, and actively engaged in several outreach activities of St Andrew’s Parish Church.

Joyce’s entrepreneurial business ventures came to an end as a result of a robbery of customers at the gourmet restaurant one night by young men with guns. Percy was there when it happened. Those young men were committing similar robberies but witnesses were not coming forward. After prompting by the police, Percy decided that it was his civic duty to identify the young men, which he did at an identification parade. The case meandered through the courts and finally came to trial. A few days before the start of the trial, Percy was trailed one night on his way home and shot, fortunately not fatally. After recovery, he still went and testified which led to the conviction of the men. Wary of further reprisal, Joyce closed the Eatery and Gourmet restaurant.

Joyce the Matriarch of the Miller Family

In the early 1980s Percy and Joyce heeded the invitation of their children in Canada and went to live there. During Percy’s long illness and his subsequent death in August 1997, Joyce became the Matriarch of the Family. She came home late November to early December each year and returned to Canada sometime in April/May. This allowed her to have the last word at the annual Christmas Dinner each year as well as to bring home Christmas presents for everybody.

In Canada, she had her own apartment in a Home for Seniors operated by the Anglican Church of Toronto. She served on the Social Committee and was heavily involved with the Hymn Sing on Sunday evenings. On her last visit to Canada in 2014 members of the Home had a social in her honour. Their testimony was that she was very approachable, a friend and counsellor to many and a people person.

As matriarch kept track of all members of the family: children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She kept in touch with in-laws even after the primary relations ended. She was the resident memory of the family. She cared for and cared about every member of the family. She was proud of those family members, children and grandchildren, who had achieved some success in life. However, her greatest concern was for any and every family member who was up against challenges.

It is true that she was kind, compassionate, caring and bore no grudges. She would give away the store. However, she was also a no-nonsenses person. She spoke her mind whether you liked it or not. She would never shame you in public, but would dress you down in private in no uncertain manner. She did not tolerate unfairness and if you did not set matters right, she would whether you liked it or not.

She was always in touch with family in Jamaica and Canada. She kept in touch with family in England. She visited Gail in Dominica and Sharon in Barbados and the Bahamas.

At the Christmas dinner last December she gave a long speech about the values and principles of the family and exhorted all of us to maintain these. She was looking forward to the family re-union planned for this week but did not make it in the way we expected.

Her Final Days

Her parents and grandparents were all Anglicans. She was christened Anglican and she remained Anglican for life. The Mothers’ Union had a special place in her life as well as different prayer groups over the years. Joyce Miller did not wear her Christianity on her selves. However, she was one of the most considerate, kind and self-less persons that you could ever meet. She served and gave without keeping score or accounts or with any expectation of reciprocity. Whatever she did was her reasonable service freely given.

In her long life, Joyce Miller suffered from many health challenges. She was a life-long sufferer of asthma. For over 40 years she suffered from angina which evolved from stable to unstable angina. Somewhere along the line she developed hypertension. She had episodes of vertigo. In 2013 she developed Type 1 diabetes. None of these stopped her from doing what she determined to do and not of these medical conditions led to her death.

In October 2014 Chick V was raging in Kingston and St Andrew. She was in Canada. Keith had been awarded National Honours which he was to receive on Heroes Day. He and I begged her to remain in Canada. She had all the underlying conditions that the health professionals were warning about. Our pleadings were to no available. She came home and attended the ceremony at Kings House. She demanded that her two other sons who had received National Honours had two wear their medallions to the ceremony and take photographs with her. As a matter of record, she did not get Chick V.

In March of 2015 she developed a bone narrow condition that necessitated her getting blood transfusions every three to four weeks. In November there was the launch of my latest book. She was due for a transfusion. She put it off. At the reception she had a glass of wine because she said that she felt happy. The next day she had to be rushed to the hospital. Three days later when she was being discharged she told me that she knew she would have to pay for what she had done. She had paid the price and had no apologies or regrets.

Over the last four months she increasingly loss mobility and she became increasingly home bound. This was very depressing to her. She stopped watching television, including her favorite programme, Schools’ Challenge. She also did not want to hear any more about Donald Trump. On numerous occasions she told family members that she was blessed. She had lived a good life. She was at peace with her Lord and was ready to die. She virtually stopped eating.

On Wednesday July 6 she was admitted to the University Hospital. After receiving a blood transfusion she seemed to be bouncing back as she had done several times before. On Monday July 11th she was given a Cats Scan, after which she literally revolved. In a resolute but dignified manner she declared: No more doctors, no more tests, no more medicine, no more sticks, and no more money to be spent. Just let me go. That evening she apologized for giving trouble that day but not for what she had said.

On Tuesday evening July 12th as we watched her die it was clear that she knew she was dying. She was gasping for breath, yet through the oxygen mask you saw that she was at peace. This seeming dissonance is best described by the fourth stanza of the modern hymn of Stuart Townsend and Keith Getty:

No guilt in life, no fear in death

This is the power of Christ in me

From life’s first cry to final breath

Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man

Can ever pluck me from His hand

‘Til He returns or calls me home

Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

Farewell Mother Dear, we will see you in the morning!