Joy Isham Was a 'Pioneer' in Advocating for the Disabled

By Andrew Binion of the Kitsap Sun - Feb. 23, 2007

Bremerton - Joy Isham didn't make a career out of helping people with developmental disabilities live with dignity, but it took center stage in her life.

"For the Olympic Peninsula, she was the Martin Luther King for handicapped people," said Ralph Munro, former Washington Secretary of State. Like Isham, Munro worked in education for disabled children.

"She's a No. 1 hero in my mind and a real pioneer," he said.

Isham, 74, died Sunday from complications from a stroke. Her memorial service is today.

The list of her volunteer duties is long and distinguished.

She was president of Holly Ridge Center, Arc of Washington and the Hoehnen Guardianship Foundation. She was chairwoman of the board at Communitas, the Kitsap County Board for Developmental Disabilities and also Lifetime Advocacy Plus. She also served as a board member for the national Arc organization and on the guardianship committee for the state Supreme Court.

Munro also said Isham was a tireless lobbyist in Olympia.

"She sat in the Legislature day and night when it wasn't popular to be for handicapped kids," he said.

"She will just be truly missed," said Sue Elliot, Arc of Washington executive director.

Isham was born in Wenatchee on Jan. 30, 1933, and graduated from Bremerton High School in 1950, later finishing the nursing program at Olympic College. She spent 25 years as a licensed practical nurse at Harrison Medical Center. She retired in 1989.

It was after her daughter Rebecca was born in 1963 with developmental disabilities that she began working for equality for disabled people, said Lewis Isham, Joy Isham's husband of 44 years. At that time, there weren't many services available.

"She had the strong belief that disabled people had just as many rights to live in a community and be served in the community and be treated just like everybody else," Lewis Isham said.

Bill Dussault, a Seattle-based lawyer specializing in disability law, said Isham knew that she had to be strong not just for her child, but for all children with disabilities.

"One of our leaders has passed," he wrote in an e-mail. "That makes it a sad day."

Isham's memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. today at Miller-Woodlawn Funeral Chapel at 5505 Kitsap Way. She will be inurned at Miller Woodlawn Memorial Park.

Donations can be made to the Hoehnen Foundation, a nonprofit corporation that provides guardianship services for people with disabilities.

Her official obituary also made mention that she enjoyed knitting and crocheting.

 

True, said Lewis Isham.

 

"She could be talking to you and knitting a sweater and never miss a stitch," he said.

Copyright Kitsap Sun, a Gannett Newspaper.