MISSOULA — I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade. – Wm. Butler Yeats, 1890
On May 23, 2019, in the morning, Joan Murphy Jonkel died at her home in Missoula at the age of 83. Joan impressed upon three generations of her family the importance of living life with skill, thoughtfulness and elegance, and of nurturing a critical appreciation of the world around us. She was a generous woman, always granting her formidable intelligence and abilities to others, and she assumed in others an equal capacity for reason and self-expression.
Born on Aug. 26, 1935, in Red Lodge to Jessie Mae Price Murphy and John Bernard Murphy, Joan was raised with her older brother Robert and younger sister Margo in Laurel. From the time she learned the alphabet, Joan was a voracious reader. A good portion of her youth was spent devouring literature and she excelled at school. Competitive and resourceful, but always kind at heart, Joan never missed a chance to perfect skills and pursue goals. As a Girl Scout, she earned all her badges. In school, she received high marks. Once she graduated from the Laurel High School in 1953, she worked at the switch yard office as a clerk, earning enough money to move to New York where she worked at a major publishing house.
In 1955, on her own initiative and with money saved, Joan moved to Missoula to attend the University of Montana. This decision was characteristic of Joan: at a time when many women settled into home life and marriage, she recognized the personal and professional importance of education. She would later influence her sister Margo to join her in Missoula. Always drawn to literature, Joan joined the English program and studied under several renowned critical scholars of the 1950s. Joan would eventually attain an M.A. in Literary Criticism for her highly-regarded study of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit.
In 1956 Joan met Charles “Chuck” Jonkel, who would become her husband of 58 years. The two married in 1957 in a small ceremony. Their son James was born in 1959. Over the next six years, Joan, Chuck and Jamie divided time between their home in Whitefish and Vancouver, B.C. During this period, Joan pursued a professional career as a graduate assistant at the University of Montana, as a special-status student at UBC, and as a high-school teacher in Whitefish.
An opportunity arose for the family to move to Ottawa, Ontario where they then welcomed their daughter Elizabeth in 1967. Joan secured a position at Carleton University in the English Department. It was during this time that Joan met her best friend, Deborah Gorham, a professor of history at the university. Joan often described this time as eye-opening, as it was when she encountered critical feminist theory by such writers as Kate Millet and Betty Friedan. Joan would persist as an ardent feminist throughout her life.
In 1974 the family moved to Missoula so that Joan could be closer to her sister Margo and her family. There, at the age of 41, Joan shifted gears and enrolled at the UM Law School. As a student, she was one of the founders of the Women’s Law Caucus, worked on the Law Review, and attended one of the first Women and the Law conferences. She graduated with honors in 1978 and began practicing in employment law and discrimination.
For the next 41 years, Joan remained in Missoula, becoming well known in the legal world and establishing strong ties to the community. She sat on various political, art and cultural boards in Missoula, including the Farmers Market, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, the Missoula Arts Council, and the Missoula Democratic Party.
But, for Joan, life was best lived well through family, friends, conversation, and the various celebrations of the year. She loved to regale others with stories about life in Laurel with her parents and siblings or about summers with cousins at the family ranches outside Red Lodge. On special occasions, the cookbooks came off shelves, elaborate dinner plans were prepared, and wondrous meals were cooked. Glasses of fine wine were clinked on many an evening and good times were had by friends and family. This joie de vivre remained strong in Joan until the day she died. Joan will be remembered for the special effort she took to make everyone feel included. She was truly one of a kind, and the mark she left on her community and on the lives of those around her will not be forgotten.
Joan leaves behind in sorrow her son James, granddaughter Madeline and mother Ali Duvall, daughter Elizabeth and husband Brad Craig, niece Kate Ybarra and husband George and their children Zora and Zander, and her older brother Robert Murphy, wife Carol and son John of Florida. She also leaves behind her dear friend Debbie Gorham. Joan was preceded in death by her parents, Jessie and John Murphy, her sister Margo Murphy Jerrim, and her husband Charles.
Cremation has taken place and her remains with be interred with her parents and sister in the Laurel Cemetery. If you would like to share a fond memory of Joan, please email email@example.com.