The head rules the heart

By Craig Spence, November 2012

Deep roots in Victoria and a love of life have blessed both Joyce Clearihue and this city.

If Joyce Clearihue were going to have a family motto tacked to the door of her summer home on Patricia Bay, it would say: “The head rules the heart.” And right under the main statement would be a subtext proclaiming: “No regrets.”

At 85, Joyce is “easing up” a bit. She has decided she can relax, and spend more time meditating in her “favourite place in the whole world”—the beach in front of her “Summertrees” property. But you get the feeling it isn’t so much a case of the sun setting on her golden years, as her giving it leave to glow on a horizon of her choosing. The sense of realism, determination and purpose that have always been central to her personality still rule. 

“I really am at peace,” she says. “I love my life. And now I don’t mind settling back. I love to be in my special place laying on the beach or on the couch—in fact I’m being naughty about laying around, but I love that now and I think that’s okay at my age.”

It’s a recent phenomenon. She stopped hiking a year-and-a-half ago, classifying herself an alpine “groupie” now that she’s hung up her boots. And she gave up downhill skiing this year. “I don’t want to break any more bones,” she explains. “I’ve broken plenty already.” But her eyes light up when she shares a photo of her carving a turn on a Banff ski slope nine years ago, at age 76.

The photo captures a moment of exuberance, individuality, control and focus. It says a lot about Joyce Clearihue.

As the daughter of Joseph and Irene Clearihue, she was born into privilege and high expectations. Her father—one of Victoria’s Honorary Citizens—was a Rhodes Scholar, prominent lawyer, judge, alderman and the first Chancellor of the University of Victoria. Her mother was a medical doctor in an age when the notion of a career woman was just being formulated. “My mother was in the first class of women admitted in London Hospital in London, England,” Joyce notes.

“When your parents are prominent people in the community, it really is a stimulus. It’s expected that you will do well,” she says. Privilege in the Clearihue household did not mean footloose and fancy-free, it meant taking on the responsibilities of your position in society. Joyce remembers her upbringing with a mixture of happiness and appreciation—happiness for the rich, supportive environment her parents provided; appreciation for the strict upbringing they insisted on.

“I was a single child and was brought up to be able to do just about everything,” she remembers. “My mother being from England and being a doctor, she had the English ways of bringing people up strictly, I think.” As a teen, she didn’t get to go to dances when others did; her parents insisted she excel at St Margaret’s School; they considered it proper to remark upon the suitability of her friends—including boy friends.

Most teens today would bridle at the slightest hint of parental meddling—especially in the relationship red zone—but Joyce listened to what her parents had to say and weighed their advice into the balance. “Anybody I’d bring home and my parents would think maybe they weren’t the best person for me, that would definitely be an interesting factor,” she recalls.

She never did bring anyone home either she or they thought the ideal match, so Joyce remained a Clearihue from day-one. “I suppose that’s a little regret,” she allows, “but on the other hand I’ve had a wonderful life—I just love my life.” At university she was too busy studying medicine to set aside the requisite time to find a partner; after graduation, she was too busy practising medicine as a dermatologist. Her temperament, interests and career all conspired against the convention of marriage.

“I never met the right person, and also being a physician, I’m told I intimidated men,” she says now. Boyfriends came and went, but Mr Right never showed up. “I always said to myself, ‘This isn’t right.’ My head ruled my heart.” On the upside, remaining single allowed Joyce to excel in other areas of her life. “I wouldn’t have been able to do all the things I’ve done if I was married,” she sums up. “You have to be a superwoman to be a medical woman and have a family and run a house.”

To this day she can’t cook and hates house cleaning, and she makes no bones about it. She laughs about her last culinary experiment with the one kitchen appliance she can use (note to readers: do not attempt to warm your guests’ brandy snifters in the microwave).

A sense of history and place have always been important to Joyce. Her great-grandfather—who carried the title Keeper of the King’s Woodpile—emigrated to Canada from Scotland, settling in Quebec. Her grandfather, at age 22, arrived in Victoria via Panama in 1859 along with thousands of other gold seekers heading for the Fraser River and the Cariboo. And that’s when her family’s roots took hold in Canada’s westernmost boomtown.

Asked what those roots mean to her, Joyce doesn’t hesitate. “Everything,” she says. “My roots in Victoria mean a lot. The roots for anyone in any city mean a lot.” Not only are her roots deep, they are broad. “My best friends go back to school. All my good friends now are people that I went to school with.”

If there ever was a contest to select a true Victorian in this the city’s 150th year, Joyce would surely be among the candidates. The list of organizations she has belonged to fills a page and includes stints as president and board member of the YMCA, member of the Victoria Natural History Society, board member of Greater Victoria Archives, Craigdarroch Castle Society, University of Victoria, and Friends of the Royal BC Museum, and Honorary Governor of the Victoria Foundation…to name a few.

Giving back to the city and region that have meant so much to her remains Joyce’s focus. Her love of hiking and the outdoors has translated into the purchase of land from Western Forest Products, which she turned over to the Capital Regional District for a park on Charters Creek. “It was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she says of the transaction. The YMCA-YWCA is also an organization near and dear to her heart because of the work it does helping youth strive to attain goals. “I loved getting to my goals, and that’s what’s important for young people—to be able to attain goals. And that’s what I see as so important in the Y,” she says. And of course, at the top of her list is the University of Victoria: “The University of Victoria is something very special,” she pronounces with a serene smile.

Relaxing and meditating may occupy more of Joyce’s time than they used to, but there’s still lots to see and do in this world, and she’s a devoted “Road Scholar,” an organization that offers “educational adventures for whatever you want to learn.” While her father may be turning in his grave over the word play on the prestigious Oxford University Rhodes Scholarship, Joyce thoroughly enjoys the learning holidays. “I love attending lectures. I love learning new things,” she says. As we spoke, she was looking forward to a five-day trip to San Francisco to learn about Jewish stand-up comedy. Last Christmas she was in Albuquerque, New Mexico learning about the various strands of Jewish faith.

It’s all adding up to a life well-lived. “I’ve never had any regrets,” she laughs. “It’s a wonderful thing to be able to say that.”

Craig Spence is a freelance writer and novelist with a 30-year background in community journalism and communications. His website is at www.craigspencewriter.ca.