Dr. Ferris, who lived in Exeter, New Hampshire, was attended in her final moments by retired Senior School Spanish teacher Judy (Griffin) Reynolds, who reported that Joyce was eager to get through the surgery to more quickly get on with her recovery. Sewickley Academy’s Head of School Kolia O’Connor commented, “Such was her zest for life and eagerness to look forward! Ever the optimist, Joyce was a gallant lady and a gentle soul who touched many lives and will be sorely missed.”
A lifelong learner and academic, she earned her bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina, master's degrees from Cornell University and the University of Chicago Divinity School, and her doctorate from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. Her love and pursuit of knowledge was shared with her many students through an extensive career in K-12 education. From 1979 – 1987 she taught English and was Dean of Studies at Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Massachusetts. Following Cushing, she was a member of the faculty and administration at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, before being appointed Head of Senior School at Sewickley Academy. In 2005, after Dr. Ferris retired from Sewickley, she returned to New England where she was appointed the Academic Dean at Wolfeboro Camp School, a position she held until the time of her death.
Dr. Ferris was devoted to the Academy students in her care. Her zeal for learning was infectious; her support of students extraordinary – both personally and academically. She is fondly remembered by those whose lives she touched.
Senior School English Teacher Larry Connolly remembered Joyce as a scholar. “I loved the way she found connections between things we were facing in our lives with challenges people faced in the past,” he said. “For her, art and literature were storehouses of wisdom that could show us the way through daily challenges. She always found the best in people, sought merit in opposing positions, and made everyone feel invested in the life of the school.”
“When Joyce came to Sewickley Academy we were a great school. We were an even greater school when she left 12 years later,” Ken Goleski, Global Studies Program Coordinator and former Senior School Dean, said. “She worked tirelessly to help students find their voice, and more specifically, to help empower young women. The opinion wall, town hall meetings, and improved student government were all ways that Joyce focused on helping students collaborate and generate ideas to improve their experiences. In fact, the opinion wall, albeit not as active now as it was, is still up and running. Joyce also cherished scholarship and recognizing student achievement. She loved the Cum Laude celebration and turned it into a magnificent celebration of learning. Finally, Joyce was one of the most caring and empathetic people I have met in my career. Students felt comfortable and safe with her, and they knew that although she could be tough, she was always working for their best interest. They truly trusted her... as did I.”
Senior School English Teacher Joan Cucinotta shared her memories of the impact Dr. Ferris made at the Academy. “Joyce is responsible for the educational and personal growth of hundreds of teachers and students. She had an intuitive knack to know just what was needed by way of support. Both the nurturing educator and the demanding guardian, she deftly applied a soft touch to help one through personal problems but she could also apply a strong knock if you had started to wallow. An eloquent speaker, Joyce could insert a quote from John Donne with ease and she could minister on the spot. Leading into every exam period, she would bring a sample of the 'magic weapon' that students could use to help them succeed. She'd wave a pen in the air and promulgate that magic combination of taking notes and working hard to guarantee success. She understood the importance of family and made a point of understanding each faculty member's family situation. Joyce celebrated every marriage and birth, and mourned every death of someone close to every faculty or staff member. I was always amazed at two things: her impeccable and long-term memory for faces and names, and her indefatigable energy for attending Academy games and events as well as arts events in the city. Although we teased her about her big round sunglasses and bunion-sparing sandals, she was ever our North Star, lighting the way with her knowledge, her wit, and her strength.”
Ken continued, “I believe that I have learned important lessons from almost everyone I have ever worked with, and Joyce taught me patience. Patience to see the truth when clouded by uncertainly, patience to find the good in the struggle, and patience to press on even when faced with adversity. She was a powerhouse and a friend. I will forever miss her.”
A celebration of her life is planned for Saturday, January 12, 2019, at 2:00 p.m. at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Exeter. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, where she served as a board member, or to a scholarship fund at the Wolfeboro Camp School.
Sympathy notes may be sent to:
The Family of Joyce Ferris
8 Liberty Avenue
Exeter, NH 03833
The Sewickley Academy community sends our deepest condolences to her two children, David and Tanya, her family, and friends.