A Sacred Moment


Joy Graham

February 27, 1926 - November 29, 2018

Joy Thornton (Hale) Graham passed away on November 29, 2018 in Sedro-Woolley, Washington at age 92 from natural causes.

Born February 27, 1926 in London, England to William Pierre Thornton and his wife Jessie, Joy was raised as an only child.

Growing up during World War II in London as a teenager affected her in ways that would last her entire life. She began her nurse’s training at Hackney Hospital in the East End and when the war was over, she left London for Spokane, Wash. to marry an American B-17 gunner who was full of promises.

Joy’s life in Spokane included raising four children: Jenny, Julie, Jeff and Janet. 

Since none of her British education or training was recognized in the U.S., Joy was determined to do it all over again while raising four children on her own. In 1963, she moved the family to Seattle in order to earn her B.S. in Nursing from the University of Washington (Class of ‘66). From there she continued on to have an excellent career with the Seattle-King County Health department primarily as an elementary school nurse and a public health nurse until she retired in 1988.

Joy was a courageous, intelligent, independent woman who made incredible sacrifices so that her children could succeed. With high standards set for herself and her children, she raised them encouraging education, adventure and faith. She was a member of University Presbyterian Church of Seattle for over 25 years. Joy instilled a strong sense of family, deeply valuing her cousins in England and in the U.S. She was an accomplished author, writing poignant stories of her life experiences. She loved singing in her church choirs and became interested in Scottish culture through Scottish Highland dancing.

Upon retirement, Joy was able to expand her travels, spending time in India, Australia, Europe and even a cold winter in Greece. She then bought her little dream of an RV and toured much of the Southwest U.S., even joining a caravan down to Mazatlan, Mexico. During the course of her travels, she met and fell in love with Mr. Dalton Graham, who was also traveling on his own. Within five weeks they were married and went on to share the last 22 years together. They settled near Clinton, LA to be near Dalton’s family. The Clinton United Methodist church provided Joy and Dalton a place of worship and Christian fellowship until Joy was recently moved to a memory care facility in Sedro-Woolley. Dalton and his family welcomed this unique lady into their lives and took tender care of her in her later years. Dalton’s incredible devotion to Joy will forever serve as an inspiration to us all.  

Joy's beloved husband, Dalton, passed away just 9 days after Joy died.  She is survived by her daughters Jenny Wilcock (Ed) of Fort Collins, Colo., Julie Hale (Steve Day) of Bothell, Wash., Janet Green of Fort Collins, and son Jeff Hale (Mary) of Anacortes, Wash. She also had nine grandchildren: Audrie Diel (Nick) and Ken Wilcock both of Fort Collins, Annie Peterson of San Francisco, Calif., Ian Head of Las Vegas, Nev., Zack Hale of Washington, D.C., Libby Hale of Bellingham, Wash., Ariel Green, Jonathan Green, and Allegra Green all of Fort Collins; one great grandson, Owen Diel, and cousin Robert Beves of Nottingham, England.

The family expresses their deep gratitude to the staff of Birchview Memory Care, who tenderly cared for Joy the last five months of her life, and also to the staff of Peace Health Hospital in Sedro-Woolley, who provided outstanding care for all of us in the last week of mom’s life. We also truly appreciate the love, hard work, and dedication of Jackie Lively who cared for mom and Dalton in their home near Clinton.

Joy’s granddaughter, Libby Hale, wrote the following essay that truly captures Joy’s essence.

Imagine growing up and having your playground be the concrete ruins of an old church, carrying a gas mask with you to school and living on rations for the better part of your life. My grandmother experienced this and much more as a Londoner during WWII. The lessons and outlook she gained from her time growing up in that era have been passed down to her children and now on to me.

A lot of kids have nicknames for their grandparents – grampster, papap, nonnie – but in an act of refusal to “get old” my grandmother had us call her “Nian” – Welsh for “grandmother”. My family is not Welsh. No one in my family speaks Welsh, but somehow, the name stuck and lives on as a tribute to her stubborn wilfulness to defy the norm. Even now, though she is ailing, I can still see her spunk and hear her wisdom as she goes along with life. She catches me off guard every now with stories that she tells of the war and her home in London.

Nian always wanted to be a nurse. Even when she was a little girl, before the war, she would play doctor with her dolls. Her most prized possession was her toy stethoscope. Always craving responsibility and authority, she volunteered for her neighborhood air-warden patrol when the war broke out. Her stubborn attitude and fearless outlook made her perfect for the job. Her job was to patrol a 3-mile radius around her neighborhood during blackouts to make sure everyone’s lights were out. When she came to a house with its lights still ablaze, she would knock at the door and warn them to shut them off “or else!” She told me about the defiant ones who would flip their lights right back on once they saw her go around the corner. But Nian knew what they were up to...she would march right back, chastise them and threaten to make an official report to the authorities if she caught them with their lights on again! Something about her character and her commanding 16-year old voice told them that they really should do what she said. With a combination of authority and charm, Nian always found a way to get what she really wanted.

At 14 years old, my grandmother marched up the local public hospital steps and informed them that she was there to help and not to try shoo her away because she would just be back the next day. Amused and curious, the nurses took my grandmother’s offer and she soon became busy with odd jobs like delivering mail to patients, replacing light bulbs, and carrying bed linens. (Joy Graham, personal interview, December 1st, 2008) The head nurse there finally let her volunteer as an official nurse-in-training on her 17th birthday. The starting age for volunteer nurses in London was actually 17 ½, but since she was liked so much and had always pulled her own weight, a sneaky exception was made. In the midst of WWII, she completed her training and became a full-fledged nurse. Her training was intense as it directly involved caring for the victims of the German bombing of London.

During the war she met and fell in love with my grandfather, James R. Hale, who was an American gunner in the B-17 bombers. It was after the war that she made the decision to move back with him to the United States and become a citizen. Like many immigrants to the U.S., the main reason behind her decision to move was for a more positive future for the family she planned to have. She wanted to give her children the best education and has worked all her life at supporting them. Another show of my grandmother’s whimsical personality that has rubbed off on me is her clever use of alliteration with her children’s names. She figured that since her name was Joy and her husband was James, she should continue the pattern. First there was my Aunt Jenny, then Julie, my dad, Jeff and the youngest, Janet. Why? It would look nice on Christmas cards...which she never got around to sending. But the complete family unit didn’t last long. She filed for divorce when my father was five due to her husband’s increasing emotional abuse that she felt would soon become physical. It takes a strong, courageous woman to do what she did during the rigid era of the early 60’s.

It was a time where women were supposed to stay home and cook and divorce was almost as unheard of as single parent support groups. Throughout all this though, Nian stuck to what she knew and did best. Her passion for nursing continued even as she was forced to redo her entire education since the U.S. refused to acknowledge her degree from England. With four young children and a full time job, her duty as mother, father and premium care provider, was made nearly impossible, yet she persevered. Nian’s Victorian upbringing became more liberal over time but her mighty persistence and no-fuss attitude was still strong and she ruled her household with a firm hand.

She commonly refers to her youth back in England, but it’s the stories that she doesn’t tell that help me to understand her and my family the most. I read a book a few months ago upon my dad’s recommendation called The Longest Night: The Bombing of London on May 10, 1941 by Gavin Mortimer. It struck a nerve with him and after he finished it he called Nian to talk to her about what really happened that night. To many veterans and people involved, memories of the war are pushed to the corners of their minds and their children don’t really get a picture of what they went through. This book helped bring those memories forth. It is set in London during WWII on the first night of the Blitz when the German Luftwaffe bombarded Britain’s most powerful city. Their infrastructure was nearly destroyed, but people’s spirits lived on. As I read the accounts of the survivors there I felt a sense of familiarity…like I knew them. The attitude, wit, and endurance Londoners came out with reminded me of my own family. Nian had passed this down to her children - my aunts and my father.

Something else hit me as I finished the last page…the reason why those people seemed so familiar is because they are me. Part of me anyway. Their courage and strength lies in my blood. I feel it pumping every time I am placed in dangerous situations and emergencies. Their wit and humor comes to me in times of sorrow and stress – laughter really is the best medicine. And when I baby-sit my neighbors’ kids, I realize it is my grandmother’s calm, but firm hand that I embody when bedtime comes around.

I think we forget that old people were once young. Their youth is written in history books and often times it’s the stories we don’t hear from our grandparents that are the ones that teach us the most about the way we are today. My grandmothers’ upbringing and life experiences have been passed down from my father’s generation to me and I only hope that I can pass them down to my kids. May my grandmother’s spirit will live on.

Granddaughter ‘Libby’ Hale, © 2008


There will be a private celebration of Joy’s life on February 17th, 2019. If you wish to attend, please email her son Jeff at: gottago2hale@gmail.com

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