Joyce Ann Thibault Gravois
August 11, 1945 - August 11, 2017
Joyce Ann Thibault Gravois of Crestview, Florida died Friday, August 11, 2017 at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas from complications of recently diagnosed non-small cell lung cancer. It was her 72nd birthday.
Born in Syracuse, New York, Joyce grew up on a dairy farm in nearby Fayetteville and graduated Fayetteville-Manlius High School in 1963. The middle of three daughters born to French Canadian immigrants – the late Eli Thibault and Marie Benoit – Joyce was known for her thoughtfulness, positive outlook and infectious joie de vivre. Raised in the Roman Catholic faith, Joyce described herself as “God-fearing.”
As a child, Joyce sported auburn ringlets and developed a deep affection for all types of animals, especially horses. She amused her father by suggesting he replace his dairy cows with horses and loved to share stories about her beloved pets like boxer “Chris,” agreeable cats - all named “Louie,” and a pet skunk with a questionable personality. She was also known to enlist garter snakes in pranks on her two sisters.
Eager for adventure, Joyce and her younger sister moved to Houston in January 1968 to live with their older sister. Joyce soon met her future husband, Kevin, at a dinner hosted by her sister and brother-in-law. Kevin said accepting the invitation from his future brother-in-law John Ittel was the “best decision” he ever made. Kevin and Joyce married on August 16, 1968 and would have celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary this month.
Joyce and Kevin lived in Clear Lake City, Texas with their three children during the heyday of America’s race to the moon. Joyce appreciated this historic moment and preserved extensive keepsakes of Kevin’s work on NASA’s Apollo missions, which have become important family treasures, especially his Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work on the Apollo 13 Mission Operations Team. They stayed in the Houston area until 1978 when they decided to purchase an old dairy farm in Shelburne, Vermont.
Joyce happily filled her Vermont barn with two horses and home with various cats and wired hair fox terrier “Piper.” She also taught her children and nieces and nephews how to “properly” hold garter snakes, look for raccoon prints on the edge of mud puddles and roast marshmallows on “the knoll.” In 1984, she and her husband packed up the barns, horses, cats and children to move to the panhandle of Florida, where they lived until her death.
A devoted wife, mother and grandmother, Joyce took care of those she loved. Whether attending a horse show to cheer on her younger daughter or helping her other two children care for their children, she was quick to offer encouragement and support whenever and wherever needed. She delighted in taking her grandchildren on adventures to the beach and most recently to the Seacrest Wolf Preserve in Chipley, Florida.
Joyce embraced the notions of grit and open mindset before they became fashionable. She encouraged her children to try new things and persevere through adversity. She led by example and taught her children important life skills to become resilient, resourceful and responsible human beings. One of her favorite sayings was “best day ever!”
Joyce developed many creative talents over her lifetime. She was an accomplished homemaker and took pride in small gestures that made every day feel like a special occasion with elaborately folded napkin crowns or favorite home-cooked meals and treats because, “why not?” She knew how to sew and hand-smock clothing, curtains and other items, including a stunning christening gown and bonnets for her oldest daughter’s two children. She crocheted blankets for all her loved ones, including her many nieces and nephews. She also loved painting, taking art classes and her various collections of ceramics.
One of her greatest talents and joys was creating amazing gardens. Whether a rock garden in Vermont or a design for one of her children, Joyce enjoyed starting and nurturing beautiful gardens wherever she or her children lived. The azaleas she planted throughout her property in Crestview put on a stunning display each spring.
For these reasons and more, her family remains in shock over her sudden diagnosis and death. They rushed Joyce to Houston following the initial lung cancer diagnosis at the end of July in hope that the thoracic oncology team at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center could treat her successfully. Unfortunately, as is often the case with lung cancer, her diagnosis came too late and her health quickly deteriorated during the last two weeks of her life.
Comforted by her husband, daughters, son and one son-in-law, Joyce died peacefully in the arms of her beloved family. She fought vigorously for every last breath, thanking each and every nurse and doctor for being on her “team.” Doctors and nurses marveled at her spirit and strength.
Joyce is survived by her husband Kevin; daughter Karen and son-in-law Chris Elliott of Savannah, Georgia; daughter Jennifer and son-in-law Chad Summers of Huntsville, Alabama; and son Shannon and daughter-in-law Michele Gravois of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Her five incredibly special grandchildren are Sam and Isabel Elliott of Savannah and Zach Sizemore and Sophia and Beaux Gravois of Tuscaloosa. Her sisters Irene Ittel of Mantua, Ohio and Shirley Osborne of Fayetteville, New York, along with many nieces and nephews, survive her, as well. Joyce also leaves behind her cherished dog Derby and four-legged grandchildren Merlin, Dodger, Roux-Bee, Marley, Romeo, Strutt and Okie.
Her family encourages former smokers and those exposed to second-hand smoke to ask their doctors about cancer screening tests, especially if they are between the ages of 55 and 77.
A celebration of Joyce’s life will take place later in Syracuse, New York.
In lieu of flowers, her family suggests donations be made to the Lung Cancer Foundation of America, American Cancer Society or charity of their choice.