Joyce Whitham Spencer passed away, peacefully on December 18, 2023 at the age of 91, at Golden Pond Retirement Community in Golden CO. Joyce will be remembered by all, as a kind soul with a ready smile and a zest for adventure. When presented with a challenge, she was always willing to accept it, and make it work for her. She was an example of a good life well lived.
Born Joyce Smith Whitham on September 24, 1932 in Port Chester NY. She graduated from Port Chester High School, then went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in History from Colby College in Maine. There, she met the love of her life, Charles (Chuck) W Spencer. They were married just after her graduation in June 1954.
While Chuck was working on his master’s degree in Geology from the Univ. of Illinois, Joyce worked as a 5/6th grade teacher to support them both, until she became pregnant with the first of their three children. It was the 1950s and the school asked her to resign once she started to look like a pregnant lady. After Chuck graduated, he began work with the USGS and the two began their adventures in earnest. With their growing family, they moved up and down the east coast of the United States from Florida to Maine. They might have sought a permeant posting but instead chose to purchase a mobile home that was truly mobile. They moved no less than 20 times in the first 5 years of their marriage.
When Chuck decided to join the petroleum industry, Joyce agreed to move again, this time with a 5-year-old and a new born baby, to live in a trailer in a remote town in New Mexico called Farmington which she had never heard of, much less visited. It was her mother-in-law who helped her board the plane and flew with her and the children to New Mexico because Chuck was already busy doing field work for his new company, Texaco.
Life in a trailer with two small children was a challenge worthy of a Rom-Com. After a year of suggesting they needed an actual house, especially since there was now a third baby on the way, it only took Chuck one week of staying home over Christmas, with the two current kids, to convince him a house was needed.
Their new schedule for being relocated was every 2-3 years, instead of monthly. From Farmington NM, it was on to Denver CO, followed by Billings MT and then back to Farmington. When they arrived for the second time in Denver, it was with three kids, a dog, and a boat. The next stop was going to be back to New York City and neither Chuck nor Joyce was eager to go back east after living for more than 10 years in the beauty of the west. Chuck decided to return to working for the USGS and things settled down.
Joyce had been a homemaker but now with her children pre-teen to teen aged and settled, Joyce wanted to get back to working. In the early 1970’s she took a part time position with Alameda High School in the library media group then transitioned to being a secretary in the Gifted and Talented offices of the Jeffco School administration.
All through the years of moving, Joyce and Chuck had enjoyed camping, rafting, canoeing, skiing, boating- basically anything that took them and the kids outside into the wilderness. They loved nothing better than to explore the western mountains and deserts. Every family vacation was to a spectacular outdoor location. The more remote the better. Joyce exemplified the pioneering spirit of innovation and resourcefulness. She found a way to do cloth diapirs with a 10-month-old baby, while living out of the trunk of a car, sleeping on the ground, and cooking fresh trout caught in a nearby stream. She kept toddler’s hands clean by having them “help” with the dishes. And she still described it as fun.
Meanwhile time passed and after 20 years’ service she retired from Jeffco Schools. Over the years Chuck’s work had taken him to exotic locations and Joyce joined him when it was possible. She eagerly arrived in places like Brazil and Hungary to meet him and explore together. Once Chuck decided to retire as well, they began to travel the world with purpose. They enjoyed cruises and tours to Europe, China, Hawaii and all the way down to Antarctica. When they were not flying overseas, they toured the US and Canada in their truck camper. People they met, who were pulling large RVs’ and motorhomes, marveled that the two of them could get by living in the little space of a truck camper, but 5 years in a mobile home had prepared them to go small and be compact.
The boat was a different story. Both Joyce and Chuck had grown up near the Atlantic Ocean and always loved time spent on the water. So, when the opportunity presented itself to have a boat - even though they were living in the desert of New Mexico - they dived-in and never looked back. Boating was a crucial part of their adventures and their boats got bigger as the years passed. Once they retired, they often hauled their boat to Lake Powell, as well as other mountain lakes and even so far as taking it to the Gulf Coast - exploring from Florida to Texas.
Joyce lost Chuck when he passed in 2016 after almost 62 years of marriage. She cried. She mourned and though never being far from the loss of her love, she moved on with life because…. that is what you do.
These are the facts of Joyce’s life, yet ultimately it is the upbeat outlook to go forward with a positive, ‘we can make this work and have fun,’ attitude that encapsulates who Joyce was. Joyce knew how to change the things she could change and how to push back against the things that were hard to change. Ultimately, she recognized when pushing back could not work and showed us how to accept the situation with grace. It is hard to accept that she is gone, but we will do our best to follow her example to remember the good times and make the present better.
Joyce is survived by her brother Ken Whitham and his wife Judie, her three children and their spouses, Charles and Danica, Pamela and Morgan, Alice and Gerchard, and her four grandchildren, Jakob, Emily, Tony, and Diana with her husband Chris, and a soon to arrive great grandchild Elize Rose.
A memorial service and reception will be held on Wednesday January 24th at 1pm at Horan and McConaty, in the Reception Center Room.
3101 S. Wadsword Blvd.
Lakewood CO 80227
Weds, January 24, 2024 at 1pm
Flowers can be sent, or, in lieu of flowers a donation to Birch Rock Camp in Maine. Go to www.birchrock.org and go to the ‘Support Birch Rock’ tab on the pull-down menus.
Please let Alice Pfau know if you plan to attend so we can update the headcount.
Alice’s Phone: 346-208-0684