Tribute to Joan
From Her Friends
"Joan once took a job as a census-taker—
she was the most dedicated census-taker
the government has ever known. To give
you an example, one day she went to a
certain address only to find an empty lot.
The neighbors told her the house had just
been loaded on a flat-bed truck and
moved away. Joan took off in hot pursuit,
caught up with the house, stopped it and
interviewed the startled occupants. Now
Joan Hanlon died on January 21, and
Tom, her husband, related that story to
about 50 of Joan's friends who had gat-
ered at Breakthrough to share with each
other their thoughts and memories of
Joan. One of Breakthrough's earliest and
strongest supporters, Joan worked with
us on our first issue three years ago, and
was at the printer's with us at 5:30 that
morning to see the first papers come off
She touched the lives of so many people and cared deeply about their problems. "Joan was like the hub of a wheel,"
said Jo Nelson, who had gone to school at
UH with her.
Joan went back to complete her bachelor's degree at age 40, then went on to
graduate first in her class from the UH
School of Social Work. In 1975 Joan ran
for school board trustee in the conservative Spring Branch School District-a district she knew well, having put her five
children through its schools. Her brother
Ralph Waite, John Walton in the television series The Waltons came to town to
help her with her campaign.
Elaine Oliver remembered working
night and day with Joan in her campaign.
One night they were rummaging through
the trash-bin behind a furniture store for
materials to make signs when Joan climbed
on top of the dumpster, at 2 a.m., and
shouted, "Look at me, this is how bad I
want to be on that school board!"
Peggy Hall said that Joan had struck
her personal blow for freedom when she
refused to sort the family's socks anymore. "She didn't wear them, so why
should she have to sort them?" One day,
Peggy went over to the Hanlon's and witnessed the concrete evidence of Joan's
liberation-four enormous plastic garbage
cans full of unsorted socks.
There were many such stories that afternoon. They made us laugh, as Joan had
made us laugh. Sarah Cooper played the
piano and we sang the women's songs
that Joan had loved. Jeanne Artlip sang a
capella, her face radiant with love and
joy. As Mickey Leland said, 4T feel grateful to have had such a person as my
Hattie Thurlow showed us photos of
Joan -bringing us all together in sharing
aspects of her life we had not known.
And in that sharing, we came to know
each other better, and Joan would have
Joan took great pride in her leap from
graduate student to director of a social
service agency when she became executive director of the Voluntary Action
Center of Houston. She poured her limitless energy and talent into making VAC a
force in the community.
Joan believed strongly that with the
help of volunteers, every community
problem could be relieved. If she looked
hard enough, resources would be found.
The lonely, the alcoholic, the aging, all
were her special problem for which she
sought an answer. She served as a role
model to show women how volunteerism
could be developed into a career. She
found jobs for countless women trying to
re-enter the work force.
"These were the happiest two years of
Joan's life," said Tom. "She had finally
come into her own. Her family was her
rock, where she got support and love. Her
job filled her ego needs, and the people in
this room made her heart beat and made
At UH, March 10
Holly Near in Concert
By Pokey Anderson
She entered her first talent contest at the
age of seven. She took nine years of voice
lessons from Johnny Mathis' former teacher, sang in summer stock and in clubs,
appeared in four movies, half a dozen television shows, and in the Broadway production of Hair. All before she was 21 . . .
yes, Holly Near was on the way to becoming a Star.
But wait. The more "successful" she
was, the less she enjoyed it. A turning
point in her life came when she joined the
1971 Free the Army show and toured the
Pacific with Jane Fonda & Company. "A
lot of women came to political struggle
through personally recognizing their oppression as women, whereas my politics
started to be developed in a global way
and with that came the struggle of women."
Now, Near defines herself as a "cultural worker," having seen enough of the
mainstream plastic Star factories. "I
would like to see the breakdown of the
Star system in our society. It creates
someone better than someone else; the
person is perceived as a valuable item in a
glass cage. It makes them inaccessible and
makes the listener feel intimidated, depressed, and less than the performer,"
Near says. Probably because of her non-
star focus, Near easily establishes rapport
with her audiences, from a small women's
center to a rally of 50,000.
In many ways, Holly Near defies categorization. Her cultural work embraces
issues such as anti-nuclear work, lesbian/
gay rights, Native American support and
prisoner rights. The subjects of her songs
include an older woman who raised 13
sons, Karen Silkwood who died mysteriously while investigating nuclear hazards,
and women who were pirates off the eastern coast in the 18th century. Her style
ranges from anthems and ballads to
honky-tonk, folk and blues.
It is perhaps her attitude that is the
most definitive. Near explains, "I like doing music that speaks to our very special
lives as we struggle on this earth. I don't
get very excited by songs that are repeats
of last year's love songs on AM radio. I
like being part of building an alternative
Near and pianist/composer J. T.
Thomas are doing a 50-city tour this winter and spring to publicize Near's new album, Imagine My Surprise, on Redwood
Records, and as Near puts it, "to share
music with the people who inspire the
songs." The three-city Texas leg of the
tour will be Near's first return to Texas
since the IWY Conference.
Near is happy to be working with
Thomas on the tour, and says of her, "No
matter where the moment takes me in the
song, J. T. is always right there by my
side, moving with the mood." Thomas is
well known in the theater world for her
musicals written for young people to perform. She has won an ASCAP award for
Holly Near & J. T. Thomas will be performing in Austin on March 7, in Dallas
(at the American Association of Women
in Psychology conference) on March 9,
and will conclude their tour in Houston
on Saturday, March 10. The Houston concert will be at the University of Houston,
Agnes Arnold Hall, at 8 p.m. Tickets are
available in advance at the Bookstore,
B.D. & Daughter, Wilde 'N' Stein, "Just"
Marion & Lynn's, Ms. Take II, and in Galveston at My Sisters. Child care and sign
language will be available, and the site is
wheelchair accessible. For further information, call 665-3083 or 526-7828.
The concert is presented by Out & Out
Productions, who brought Meg Christian
& Teresa Trull to town last spring, and
who presented Sue Fink & Joelyn Grippo