Joan Marie Wainwright died peacefully on July 3, 2023, just after sunrise surrounded by her family. In the weeks prior to her death, she acknowledged that her only remaining ailment was old age, having battled chronic pain for most of her adult life. Her family and loved ones, including the attentive staff at Morningstar Boise, cared for her, hovered over her and paid their respects to a great woman.
She was 93.
Joan was born December 11, 1929, in San Pedro, California, to George L. Wallace and Bernice C. (Reilly) Wallace. George was in the merchant marine, having run away to sea at age fourteen, and Bernice having dropped out of UCLA (University of California Southern Campus at the time) to marry him.
Joan Wallace was a typical Southern California girl – spending her summers at Cabrillo Beach
with her girlfriends cultivating a tan. She attended Mary Star of the Sea Grammar School,
developing rich friendships that lasted her lifetime. She went on to St. Anthony’s High School in
Long Beach, where she served as student body vice-president, graduating with honors in 1947,
before completing her education at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles.
While in college, her father became a captain with the Pacific Far East Lines. He often invited his collegiate daughter to accompany him on board as his ship made its way north from Long
Beach through the often rough seas to San Francisco. Joan would invite schoolmates along for
the ride. Many relationships and marriages sprung from these passages as the clever and
beautiful college girls found themselves shipmates with the dashing and exotic ship’s officers. In
no time Captain Wallace’s Second Mate, Norman Wainwright, fell for the boss’s daughter, and
she for him. Among other things, she said she was impressed by the way he kept his shoes
polished. They were engaged shortly after in 1950. Any apprehension Joan might have had
about marrying a sailor was overridden by love. In 1951, weeks after her graduation with a
major in History, they wed in Los Angeles.
After setting up housekeeping in Long Beach, Norman went back to sea, and Joan completed
her teaching credential’s fifth-year course work while pregnant with their first child. When
Elizabeth was born the following year, it was Joan’s grandmother who drove her to the hospital.
That was Norman’s last trip to sea for a long time. Liz was followed in short order by Margaret
and then David and then Robert five years later and Paula shortly after that. The family has
many happy memories from their days living in San Pedro. There were beach and tide pool
trips, Angels games and holiday gatherings with Joan’s cousins’ families. But in 1964 Norman
became restless, having postponed a lifelong dream of piloting ships. The couple agreed he
would abandon his successful career with Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company and return to
sea. With her husband away, Joan proved herself a competent single mother, managing the
household and family, dispensing love (either the outward type or the hard Irish version), and
swift discipline when necessary. With Norman away at sea there was no “wait until your father
In 1967 the family moved to Stockton, where Norman had an opportunity to pilot on the San
Joaquin River. Joan packed up with a stiff upper lip (after all, Stockton was the ‘country’) and
she carried on.
In 1971 she began volunteering at St. Mary’s High School, then in 1972 accepted a position as
educational coordinator in the school department of the Catholic Diocese of Stockton. In 1980
Joan was asked to become Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese, upon acceptance she
became the first laywoman school superintendent in the history of American Catholic Schools.
With a steady hand, she led the diocesan transition from an education system that was led and
staffed by clergy to one that by necessity was now led by dedicated lay men and women. She
retired from the Chancery in 1992. Joan served with the Western Association of Schools and
Colleges on their accreditation staff from 1986 until 1994, traveling to schools throughout the
country and the Pacific Islands. She received many awards but found her greatest professional
joy in processes and people. Joan Wainwright was a born administrator. The source of her
power was silence, the first cousin to listening.
Before his death in 1998, she and Norman traveled abroad extensively. They took particular
delight in Northern Italy. There was a little Italophile in each of them. After Norman’s death,
Joan moved to Boise in 2007 to be closer to her family.
As the mother of teenagers and college kids living at home during the summers, Joan always
waited up late until all her “chickens” were in the door, sometimes deep into the night. Curled
up in a club chair she appeared to be reading, but she was brooding, nesting like all good
mothers of all species do – accounting for her flock. She died knowing they were all safe and
Joan was preceded in death by her husband Norman, daughter Paula, brothers Bobby and
Steven, and her parents George and Bernice Wallace. She is survived by her four children, Liz
Ierulli (Ken) of Portland, Oregon, Margaret Henbest (Mike), of Boise, Idaho, Dave (Sue) of
Alameda, California and Rob (Caroline) of Novato, California, and her sister Carole Patridge of
Portland. Nana was an active and loyal grandmother to Ryan Henbest (Lynne), Dr. Daniel
Henbest (Melissa), Allison Hanna (Byron), John Wainwright, Kevin Henbest (Annie), Joe
Wainwright, Matthew (Madeline) Wainwright, Andrew Wainwright and Brooke Wainwright.
She was proud and joyful of their pursuits and adventures. She kept close track of great-grandchildren Lyric, Jude, Rhen, Inez, Beau, Hudson, Vera and Lochlin.
A funeral mass will be held for Joan at St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Boise, Idaho on
Wednesday, July 26 at 11:00 AM. Her burial and graveside ceremony will take place at San
Gabriel Cemetery, San Gabriel, California, on September 15 at noon, with a reception luncheon