Published: December 8, 2020
Joyce Maxwell Subjack quietly and unexpectedly passed to her heavenly reward in her sleep on November 16, 2020, at the age of 74. Joyce was known to all as a gentle soul who dearly loved her husband of 54 years, Bill Subjack. Together, they worked as antiques show dealers with Neverbird Antiques, specializing in needlework samplers and rare autographed letters and documents.
Joyce was born in Liverpool, England, to the late John Henry Maxwell and Isabelle Cannon. Arriving in the United States at age seven, she and her family settled in South Amboy, N.J. She graduated from Drew University with a BA in psychology; and continued her education to earn a teaching certificate in early childhood education.
In a Facebook post, Bill wrote, “Like a thief comes in the night, death took my Joyce from me early this morning. She was the love of my life since we met in 1961, when she was just 15 years old. She died of an apparent heart attack in bed just before dawn. For me she was the perfect wife, a fantastic companion, my best friend, my lover, a good believing Christian, a wonderful cook who kept alive all the family traditions and perhaps best of all the mother of our three fine kids.”
“Unlike most people, our idea of a fun date was to go out to an antiques shop or a bookstore or to things that related to our cultural history.” Bill recalled. Neverbird, the business, was launched when Bill – turned 55 and eligible for retirement from the pharmaceutical industry as a chemical engineer – and Joyce decided to make as their life’s mission a quest for needleworks and later original historical letters that told the story of early life in America. And the couple started down this track with needlework samplers. “Joyce liked sewing, knitting, crotcheting – all things textile. Our goal was to do whatever we could, in a little way, to preserve cultural history.”
Made by virtually every American girl in the nation’s early history, having crossed the ocean from England, the needlework samplers represented tangible, documented traces of life, mores and education of girls in pre-Civil War America. “The boys, on the other hand, were overwhelmingly in farming,” said Bill. “Unless the boy was one of the chosen few who had an education, he would disappear from history entirely. But the girls survived through these samplers.”
The Subjacks decided that they would not just show the needlework – sometimes pretty, sometimes pedestrian – but to show that each of these was “made by a human being in a certain time and place.”
Later in their collecting endeavor, the couple brought the same focus to original letters and historical documents. Said Bill, “We evolved to wanting to find out more about the times and places these were created. And how do you find that out? Well, you read books. Not all, but the majority of modern books put a modern spin on things and interpreted the past through current mores. So we decided to start to buy old letters, which tell a story in a way that, a lot of times, modern books don’t.” Bill recalls that one of the first letters they bought was written by a 9-year-old Tennessee boy describing the ravages of the Civil War in the area in which he was living. He was writing to his cousin and expressing his fears – would his town be overrun? would he be killed? would there be slave uprisings? “We’re seeing the world through a 9-year-old’s voice,” said Bill, “and that struck us as totally real.”
Joyce cherished her three children, Jenny Piezas (Josh) of Cranford, N.J., Christine Davis (Robert) of Highland Park, Ill., and Bill Subjack Jr (Taylor) of Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; and her four grandchildren, Max and Benjamin Piezas, and Isabel and Linnea Davis.
The family lived in Harrisonburg, Va., Westfield, N.J., and Surry, Va. Joyce was an active member of St Paul Episcopal Church in Surry for the past two decades.
Joyce loved the weather, gathering for holidays with family (Christmas was her favorite), and making family recipes that had been passed down through the generations, like Placek. She loved animals and leaves behind a talking pet Cockatoo, Schmoozie. Teddy bears always made her smile.
Joyce was loved by so many and emanated light and love with a selfless and generous nature. She will be dearly missed.
Said Bill, “Our last child, Bill Jr married his Taylor In October. The wedding was lovely but for many attendees one of the very best parts of the night was the wedding dance between Joyce and our son Bill. The dance brought tears to my eyes, and shortly we realized eyes all around the room were misty as well. This dance was fortunately recorded on film to cherish. Joyce and I looked at the moment as the final leaving the nest for my son, who moments before took a wife of his own. We could not possibly imagine that it would be a permanent goodbye. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had her share her everything with me for nearly six decades.”
A Celebration of Life service was conducted on November 19 at the family residence with Reverend Jim Browder III, officiating. Services were private.
Condolences can be sent to Bill Subjack, P.O. Box 479, Surry, VA. 23883. Online condolences may be registered at www.jldodsonandsons.com.
[Ed. Note: The link here leads to a video clip of the mother-son dance at the Subjacks’ son’s wedding. Said Bill Subjack, “First and foremost, Joyce was full of love for her family, and the love for her family underscores why pretty near everyone felt so positive about her persona and it explains much about whatever success our Neverbird Antiques venture accomplished as antiques dealers specializing in samplers and historical ephemera.”
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