Joyce Neighbours: A loving mother leading by example

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, May 15, 2024

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Joyce Neighbours is known by many in the Windsor community and beyond as a former insurance business owner, a leader on various boards and organizations, and a faithful servant in her church.

But the role in which she has likely made the greatest impact in her life is that of mother to her two children. These two children recently took time to “arise up, and call her blessed,” as it says in Proverbs 31:28a.

Her son, Sidney “Sid” Neighbours, noted that the motto of his mother’s business was “Serving God by Serving Others.”

“That’s how she’s lived her life, and what a great example that’s been,” he said.

Her daughter, Dr. Joleen Neighbours, said her mother always emphasized to her to do her best, to be kind and to be a good human in the world.

“My mom is the epitome of being a good human,” Joleen said.

Joyce, 87, grew up on a farm outside of Zuni and lives in Windsor today with her husband, Marion Neighbours, 90. They moved to town when they were married in 1959, and celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary on April 19.

Sid helped outline the many roles in which people in the community may be familiar with Joyce, noting that her success and faithfulness in these roles helps compound the impact she has as a mother because of her tremendous example.

“She was in the insurance business for over 50 years, and when she retired, she was the sole owner and president of the Shirley T. Holland Insurance Agency,” he said. “And she would tell you — these are her words, I’ve heard it many a time — that she was a woman working in a man’s world and in the 1950s and ’60s and ’70s, particularly.”

She became sole owner of the Windsor-based agency in 2000 and retired from that role in 2011.

“I didn’t fully appreciate that she had been a woman running a business in a man’s world when I was growing up,” Joleen said, noting that she believed her mother managed to obtain a credit card before the time when women could generally get them. “We don’t think about these small-town women that are community leaders, per sé, in your bigger parts of the world, but it’s the small-town women that stepped up and held their head high… they’re the foundation of what all of us are able to do now.”

Sid noted that Joyce has done a lot of philanthropic community work through the years. 

She has twice served as the president of the Woman’s Club of Windsor.

“She and Daddy were charter members of the Friends of the Windsor Library, and she was treasurer of it until about a year ago,” Sid said.

Joyce has served on the Blackwater Regional Library Board of Trustees and was its chair for several years. 

With Marion working for the postal service as a rural carrier, Joyce was an officer in the Auxiliary of the Virginia Rural Carriers Association.

She is a longtime member of Tucker Swamp Baptist Church in Zuni, and she began serving as organist there when she was only 13 years old.

“She’s now been the church organist for 74 years,” Sid said. “She still plays. She has some serious mobility issues and has to walk with a walker, but she can still get to the piano. She doesn’t always play the organ now, but she’s still the organist.”

Sid also noted, “Mom has broken a lot of glass ceilings.”

He shared how she was the first and only female chair of a pastor search committee, and she has done that on three different occasions.

“She’s still the church clerk, which basically is the recording secretary,” Sid said, adding that she also audits the church checkbook.

A food pantry operates out of the church, and Sid said both his mother and father are key contributors to it, with Joyce helping with the bookwork and serving as treasurer.

Both Sid and Joleen shared personal insights into what their mother is like.

“She came up in a time that women worked till they had children, but Momma… when she got home from work, she already had everything lined up for dinner, so we never missed out on anything — I can assure you — growing up because my momma worked,” Sid said. “If anything, obviously we had a whole lot more because she was as good at working and managing things at home too.”

He noted that she always had a knack for business and knows how to communicate tactfully with others.

“She was tough and held her ground and whatnot, but she was always very ladylike about it,” he said. “She’d tell you off, and you didn’t realize you’d been told off until after the fact.”

Joleen described her mother as “southern woman tough,” noting that she is “able to very nicely put you in your place.”

Sid said, “Of course, everybody says they have the best mother in the world, and of course, I think that as well.”

He described her as very giving, and both he and his sister provided an illustration of this trait.

Joleen said, “My grandfather owned a farm, and my grandparents still had two young daughters at home when my mom and dad got married. Well, my grandfather died really suddenly at 48. My parents had only been married a year, and both of them really stepped up and also took care of my grandmother as well as my aunts.”

Joyce’s youngest sister was only 4 years old when their father passed away.

“So Momma helped my grandmother a lot, Mom and Daddy both, really,” Sid said.

Sid noted that his mother cares for others and is a very service-oriented person.

“A good neighbor, a good citizen,” he said, describing her further. “Above all, a good Christian. Very often new clients at the business also got an invitation to church if it was somebody moving into the community.”

He said, “She always considered her clients like family,” and due to her longevity in the business, she eventually had fourth-generation clients.

Sid praised his mother for the example she set as a wife.

“She and my daddy are the perfect example, in my opinion, of marriage and love,” he said.

Sid also noted that his mother is physically tough. He said she has had some major mobility issues since she broke her hip in 2019, “but she pushes, sometimes she pushes too hard, and we have to sort of slow her down a little bit.”

She had blood clots on her spinal column in 2021, “and she pretty much had to learn to walk again,” Sid said.

He recalled that doctors expected her to remain in a wheelchair from 2021 onward, but she was out of it after a month or two, using a walker now to help her remain mobile on her feet.

Joleen noted that though her mother’s mobility has been compromised, “her mental acuity is amazing.”

Joleen lives in Windsor, four houses down the road from her parents, “so I check on them every day,” she said.

Both Sid and Joleen took time to share how their mother has specifically impacted them as people.

Sid said he and his mother “are a whole lot alike.”

He noted that she has shown him unconditional love and has loved him through some major health difficulties of his own.

Joleen shared that when she was pregnant with her own daughter, Savannah Miller, she was going through tremendous marital challenges and was left without anyone to accompany her to the pregnancy-related classes. 

Joyce regularly drove out to Virginia Beach, where Joleen lived at the time, to keep her company.

“I was in a very difficult marriage, and so in order to keep me from being alone at those classes, she would go with me,” Joleen said.

She also noted, “That’s something that I’ll be eternally thankful for, and I hope she knows that.”

Through Joyce’s example of giving back, Sid said she taught him about the part of Luke 12:48 that says, “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

Sid and Joleen also shared some details about themselves to highlight the lives their mother helped prepare them for.

Sid said he has learned a lot of his business sense and work ethic from his mother.

Now 60 and living in northern Suffolk, Sid is retired after working for more than 20 years as an educator with Suffolk Public Schools, filling roles including teacher, assistant principal and principal.

Prior to that, he worked in banking and rose to the level of executive officer at Farmers Bank in Windsor.

He began playing the piano in church at the age of 14, and by the time he was 20, he was playing full time at Tucker Swamp Baptist Church.

“Mom was the organist, and I was the pianist for a number of years,” he said. “Then in 1995, I was offered the job at Windsor Christian Church.”

He went on to be the organist/pianist and director of music at WCC for 29 years.

Joleen, who is 49, has had great success in the realm of academics, including earning her Ph.D.

She taught for 17 years for Suffolk Public Schools and currently serves SPS as its coordinator of fine and performing arts.

“Since I’ve taken this (coordinator role) on, we’ve been named Best Communities for Music Education for two years in a row,” she said. “I was actually the Outstanding Administrator from the Virginia Music Educators Association this past year.”

Sid noted that Joleen has had the opportunity to directly apply the lessons of motherhood that she learned from their mother as a result of having a child of her own.

“Joleen’s a great mother to her daughter, and she’ll tell you it’s because she had such a great role model,” Sid said.

Joleen noted that her daughter, Savannah, was valedictorian of Nansemond River High School and earned a full scholarship to attend Dartmouth College, an Ivy League school. Savannah is a published writer and is currently working on a master’s degree.

Sid gave Joleen a sign years ago that says, “It takes a strong woman to raise a strong woman.”

“My daughter is amazing,” Joleen said, “and she will tell you that the only thing that I’ve ever said to her is, ‘You do your best.’ And that was the big thing with my mom — she always told me to do my best. And so you end up going, ‘Could I have done better? How can I improve?’ And so that becomes your way of thinking.

Joleen continued by noting that in addition to productive ways of thinking, her mother taught her to “be kind and good and a good human in the world.”

Joleen indicated that her mother never pushed her to go to college, but it was always an expectation.

“I think my mom definitely set a standard for my daughter and I that this is what you do — you do your best, whatever that is,” Joleen said.