“We’ll sing in the sunshine; we’ll laugh every day. And, then we’ll be on our way”-Gale Garnett
If you are a woman attempting to break through the glass ceiling or someone who grew up in circumstances that have required you to struggle in life, you will be inspired by the life of Dr. Joyce J. Neville, who passed away recently. She was a friend and professional colleague who I admired greatly.
Born September 9, 1929 in the west Texas ranch town of Alpine, Joyce was the eldest of two daughters. Both parents and sister, Sandra Kelley, preceded her in death. Joyce was raised in Alpine, Texas through high school. She then supported herself there through the beginning years of college, working at Tex-Harvey Oil. She was given the opportunity to relocate with the company to Colorado. With a 20 dollar bill that Joyce was given by her grandmother, she set out on her own to the foreign city of Denver. After many years of service and searching for a new challenge, she decided she wanted to be her own boss. Joyce founded her own accounting company, which she maintained throughout a multitude of business endeavors, the pursuit of higher education, and carried it through to the date of her passing. Joyce decided to pursue a degree in business and completed a Bachelor of Science, with honors, in 1967, University of Colorado, Boulder. She continued on and received a Master of Business Administration (emphasis in Accounting) in 1968. During these years of education she became an adult curriculum developer and seminar coordinator for the U.S. Department of Labor training programs. Possessing her M.B.A., Joyce readily passed the Certified Public Accountant examination was fully certified shortly after. Proudly, Joyce earned a Doctor of Business Administration, with an emphasis in Finance, Accounting, Management Science, from the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1973. Throughout her educational career, she received numerous honors and fellowships. Joyce was a scholar but also became a lecturer and a professor in the areas of accounting, finance and administration during college and for many years following graduation at The University of Colorado, The University of Colorado Medical Center and Metropolitan State College. Joyce excelled in business and was appointed by the Governor as Commissioner, Colorado Hospital Commission, establishing regulation of hospitals and public utilities. She then became Vice President for Corporate Affairs, Mercy Medical Center in Denver, Colorado, responsible for financial management, legalities, governmental relations and corporate planning. Four years later, after much success, Joyce became the Manager of Department of Health and Hospitals, City and County of Denver, Colorado. This was a Mayoral appointed position (Federico Pena administration), making her responsible for the administration of City hospital, outpatient clinics, and public health department. This annual operating budget she was responsible for was $115 million and she oversaw 2,500 employees. Joyce continued to work in her own business as an accountant throughout these years, but wanted to do more. After many years of planning and development she, along with two partners, formed The Minesen Company, building a large hotel in Hawaii.
When Joyce Neville left Denver Health she was at an age where most people simply retire. As I reflect back on the Colorado health care community in the 1980s and early 1990s, Dr. Joyce Neville and Sister Mary Andrew, CEO of Saint Joseph Hospital were the two women who broke through the glass ceiling. Back then hospital administration and medicine were largely a male field. In my opinion: to this day, no person, male or female, has come close to achieving what these two women achieved in health care administration in Colorado. I don’t think we will see the likes of either of them for a long time to come. I was blessed that both of them were clients of mine and became friends.
You would have thought that with the death of her mother and sister, and having to do battle with the U.S. Army, Joyce Neville would have thrown in the towel. Far from it. Even a year ago she was writing a new book, “Tin Cups and China Saucers” in collaboration with old friends from Alpine. When they couldn’t find a publisher Joyce underwrote printing of the book.
So, what can we learn from the life of such a woman? At the memorial service were none of the mayors, governors, senators or executives Dr. Neville had loyally served throughout her life. It’s typical for the breed. But, the hall was crowded with the normal people she touched as she walked through life. As I talked with those in attendance, there was universal agreement. She was one of the most intelligent people anyone of us had ever met; she had class and humor and grace. She didn’t harbor grievances. She defied organizational hierarchy to build relationships. She had compassion for other people’s difficulties in life as a result of what she had experienced herself. She was fearless and could not be put off by political power or money. She was both a warrior and queen.
Dr. Joyce Neville was one of those rare people who come to walk the earth and touch our lives. You cannot say that who she was came about because of her PhD or some inheritance. No, it was because-of-who-she-was that she obtained the PhD. She was not defined by her career in health care; she created a new category. When Dr. Joyce J. Neville reached her peak, health care was desperately in need of professionally trained managers to help it cross the chasm from its early beginnings to the modern system that exists today. She was in the vanguard of a new breed of professional. But, she was not a narrow specialist or a generalist jack of all trades. She was a “GENERAL”, deeply schooled and hardened in multiple disciplines such as computers, finance, accounting, operations, administrations and public policy. This type of person is rare but always dominates when surrounded by mere specialists.
There are not many great Sequoia trees left in the old growth forest. The loss of any one is irreplaceable. Dr. Joyce J. Neville was an impeccable professional and the best of friends. She was a Texan to the very end and her cousins have rightfully repatriated her to Alpine. While she was in Denver for 55 years—“She was in it, but never of it”.