In Memory of Joy

I thought for a while before writing this blog entry, which is really about a personal matter, a death in my family of my father’s first cousin this week. I just attended her funeral. I thought: “is it right to mix a personal family matter with this blog, which usually discusses more formal, business stuff, like my research work.”

After contemplating it for a while, I came to the realization that a lot of this blog actually is about personal matters. In fact, a lot of my research is sort of personal and introspective. I recently have given a few doctoral consortium talks about research topics and research impact, and I’ve noted how personal good research often is. So, if there’s one thing I’ve discovered lately that feel important, it’s that the personal and the “business” oriented concerns mix and merged together in my thoughts and in my research.

Blogs are interesting places where we can do this sort of exploration. This blog in a way gives you a little insight into some of the stories behind my other writing, and it gives me a forum for exploring my own thoughts in a way that’s a lot less constrained and forced than my more formal writing like articles or book chapters.

So I am writing this blog entry about my late cousin Julie Garden, was also known as Joy Hall. Joy had a lasting impact on my life and interests and I wanted to share some of the impact she had on me in on the world in general.

Joy was an entrepreneur. After getting her accounting degree (one of the first women in Canada to do so), in the 1950s, she had an idea for a new company that she started with her husband, Moe. The company was called Ambassador Leather Goods. Her idea was to make a type of file folder for credit cards and build it into a stylish wallet. They distributed it through mail-order sales, in a time when the mail order company was cutting-edge marketing science.

Joy was an innovator. The idea behind the company was to merge two at that time cutting-edge trends: the rise of credit cards, and the consequent need the people and organize them, and the efficiency of the mail system and the ability of it to look deliver goods and services through direct mail and catalog-based businesses. This was like riding the Internet wave of the 1950s.

Joy was extremely successful. The business Joy and her husband started was wildly successful, moving from Toronto to Niagara Falls, Canada and from there to Niagara Falls, New York. In the memorial service today, her brother quoted the astonishing figure that at one time 87% of the mail going to Niagara Falls, New York was headed to Ambassador Leather Goods. The company later relocated again, this time to Phoenix, Arizona, which at this time in the mid-1960s was still largely undeveloped, but whose potential Joy, again presciently, recognized.

One of the things that I noticed when I read about Joy’s business in some of the reflections that people had about it online, one of thing that people found most memorable about the Ambassador Leather Goods catalog was the picture of Joy and Moe on the inside front cover and it was signed Joy and Moe Hall. People reflected on that picture. They opined that this was a happy family, a family that somehow by buying these wallets in different goods through the mail they were partaking in. I have no doubt that this personal touch, with their actual signatures, was Joy’s idea.

In a way this was a brand community, maybe even one of the first brand communities. It was a mixing of familial and close knit communal feelings with the commercial and economic workings of the business.

That theme, the relationship and interrelationship of the communal and the commercial, has been a central element of my research work throughout my career. It certainly was a part of Joy’s business and her family’s business as well, as they experimented with forms of multilevel marketing that tried to combine various social relationships with the logics of business. Ruminating on them, writing about them, I had contemplated these interesting social interminglings for decades before I even entered my doctoral program.

It was during her time in Phoenix that Joy had a serious health issue that led her to distrust conventional medicine and to embrace alternative forms of treatment. She was diagnosed with a terminal disease, but she resisted conventional treatments and drugs and sought out alternative treatments, which cured her.

After this incredible experience, she became an evangelical advocate of various sorts of alternative remedies and alternative belief systems. Later, she would be instrumental in institutionalizing, fundraising, and bringing naturopathic medicine to Canada. Because of this work, naturopathy has thrived in Canada, and on practically every corner in my neighborhood there is a naturopathic and homeopathic clinic.

Joy was into healthy food. I remember first learning about the merits of organic food and about vegetarianism from Joy when I was just a kid. And colonic irrigation. Wheat grass juice. Chelation therary. And aura reading. I remember that she insisted that green grapes had powerful anti-toxin properties. She had cheated death once, and I think she planned to continue cheating it, perhaps indefinitely. She was very interested in life extension, and I believe she had ties to the early post-human movement.

Joy was an iconoclast. Another way that Joy influenced my thinking, probably the most profound way, was her introduction of a range of alternative thinkers and writers to me. I remember one of the early books she gave me to read I was probably about 11 years old) was Vera Stanley Alder’s “The Finding of the Third Eye,” and T. Lobsang Rampa’s “You Forever.”

She introduced me to the work of Baba Ram Dass and Dr. John Lilly. I even met some of the spirit channeling and UFO worshiping Unarians at a meeting in her home where, as an impressionable 12 or 13-year-old, I was told by one of their leaders and ‘sensitives’ that I had an “extraordinarily high vibration level” (I felt really special at the time). That exposure contributed to a lifelong interest in mysticism and alternative and particularly Eastern religions, some of which is apparent in my writings about Burning Man (particularly the book chapters).

Joy was a freethinker, she used her wealth and influence to explore and share new ideas. I remember her enthusiasm and her clear bright eyes, the passion with which she spoke, and my own thrilling excitement when I heard the ideas I had never heard from anyone else before being shared. She would take the time to invite my sister and I to share in these ideas, coming to meetings as if we were sort of modern-day cellar Christians, in her wild, extravagant penthouse mansion on Toronto’s Bloor Street was our secret hiding place.

This is my tribute to my cousin, Joy Garden, to a dynamic, independent, free spirited, and compassionate woman who changed the lives of so many she touched.

Joy, you are loved, and you will be missed.

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