ROCKWOOD – Joyce Eileen Hill, who died at home on Jan. 28 of this year at the age of 86, was someone people might call an unsung hero.
A lifelong volunteer in her community, she never actually received an award for her tireless work – and yet she was just the kind of person every community should have, because from day one she wanted to help.
Trained as a nurse at Wellesley Hospital School of Nursing, she began her nursing career in Toronto, doing what she was meant to do.
She loved working in the operating room at the Hospital for Sick Children and later in the Emergency Department of the Deep River and District Hospital.
She remained lifelong friends with a number of classmates, and after the untimely death of her first husband, John David Currie, one of them arranged a blind date with William Hill who was to become her second husband.
When she and Bill wanted to move to the county in 1976, closer to where the children could go downhill skiing, they purchased the old Pasmore farm just outside of Rockwood as a weekend getaway. It soon became their permanent home, and they spent the next 53 years restoring it and filling it with beautiful antiques.
However, Bill was still working in Toronto, where he operated his own mining consultancy and the children were still attending school in Toronto. The two older boys, Brian and David attended St. George’s College, and their daughter Mary, was at St. Clement’s.
The GO train had just begun service from Georgetown, so the four of them were able to travel by train to Toronto every day.
Joyce’s most recent service to the community was in 2011, when she alerted her neighbours to the news of a public meeting about an application for a gravel extraction operation at Hidden Quarry, on the corner of 6th Line and Highway 7.
Instantly realizing that this would be a big deal, Joyce designed a flyer that day announcing that a meeting would be held in their kitchen; she printed several copies and distributed them to their neighbours.
Approximately 35 people attended, and a fundraising committee was formed. The Concerned Residents’ Coalition (CRC) was then organized and incorporated.
Joyce organized the first garage sale and she added a large number of plants from her own garden and growing greenhouse.
Over seven years (during which Bill’s mining expertise was also to prove invaluable) a total of $750,000 was raised to fight the application.
While the CRC lost the fight against Hidden Quarry, sufficient safeguards were put in place that the quarry has yet to go ahead.
Joyce was also involved in work for her local church.
After joining St John’s Church in Rockwood, she was quickly made a warden.
When the tiled roof of the church needed to be replaced in 1978, Joyce was able to convince local artist Yosef Drenters to open up the Rockwood Academy for a tour and a Strawberry Festival, to raise the money required.
The academy, which was later made famous as the location of the 1986 film Agnes of God, attracted hundreds of visitors.
Stephen Truchan of Elora, a friend of the family for over 50 years, tells the story of how Joyce involved him in the arrangements.
From his position as organist and choir master at Rockwood, he was able to arrange a concert by the boys’ choir from St. John’s Church in Elora.
Eye-catching in their red cassocks and white neck ruffs, they paraded down the street into the academy to perform, as increasing numbers of people gathered in the street to watch.
Enough money was raised that day to cover the cost of re-roofing the local church.
Joyce was a lifelong lover of music, and she was naturally drawn to the music of St. John’s Church in Elora. She studied piano as a child and she played into her adulthood, instilling a love of music in each of her children and grandchildren.
She also became a master gardener. Many community gatherings featured a sale of plants she had nurtured, from the annual Christmas Craft Sale at the Eden Mills Community Hall, to the many CRC fundraisers.
When the Elora Book Sale began 30 years ago (last year raising $30,000 for the Elora Festival Singers) she was there helping.
When St. John’s Elora famously displayed a cascade of knitted poppies over the front of the church to celebrate 100 years of the poppy as a symbol of Remembrance, Joyce had knitted at least 100 of them.
Joyce also had great physical courage.
While she rarely talked about it, she was diagnosed in 1986 with breast cancer, which had metastasized to her lungs.
To many that would have been a death sentence, but Joyce fought through her chemotherapy treatment and continued her community work.
The cancer returned in 2007 and she again went through the treatment, in this case oral and fusion chemotherapy, while continuing her volunteer work, even though the cancer threat hung over her for the rest of her life.
It was only when her beloved husband Bill died in August, 2022 that she began to decline.
“It wasn’t the cancer that killed her,” says her daughter Mary sadly. “She died of a broken heart.”
Joyce Hill was a person of great insight and a true problem solver. For example, she was able to complete the Globe and Mail cryptic crossword with ease.
She was always kind and generous to anyone who called at the house, with refreshments appearing at the table with seeming effortlessness.
If every community had a tireless volunteer like Joyce, the world would be a happier place.