Obituary: Joyce Joynes Langston / Nurse, volunteer and lover of life
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Joyce Joynes Langston had a lack of inhibition and an abundance of caring -- she put the one to good use for entertaining, and the other to great effect for helping youngsters.
After a 1996 brain tumor ended her employment as a registered nurse, Ms. Langston recovered to fill a still-valuable role as a volunteer assisting Pittsburgh elementary school kids in reading and learning healthy habits to avoid obesity.
Many of those youths saw her dance as a form of trying to teach them something. Similarly, many attendees at the University of Pittsburgh's football and basketball games saw her dance in the stands as her way of supporting those teams. And Ms. Langston would be the first -- and sometimes the only -- OASIS participant to get to her feet and shake and groove enthusiastically to the music accompanying some event of the older adult volunteer group.
"She was full of life," said OASIS manager Shirley Fisher. "She was just her own individual person. She had the biggest heart of anybody I know, but she had a spirit and positive attitude about her that just transcended everything."
Ms. Langston died Thursday of lung disease at UPMC St. Margaret. The Green Tree resident was 65.
Originally from the Tidewater area of Virginia, where she received her training at the DePaul Medical Center School of Nursing, Ms. Langston moved to the Pittsburgh area in the late 1970s with her husband, Donald.
She worked at St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon, and after certification as a psychiatric nurse, took positions at Southwood Psychiatric Hospital and Lakewood Psychiatric Hospital. At those facilities and later in the city schools, she dealt regularly with tough youngsters from difficult backgrounds, but her husband said Ms. Langston had her own tough training, despite her perpetually sunny disposition.
"Her father used to arrange boxing matches in their backyard when she was growing up, and she said she could kick all the boys' butts," Donald Langston recalled. "She could whup all of them except one kid, who went to the NFL."
When her tumor was diagnosed 16 years ago, she spent 13 hours in surgery at Allegheny General Hospital. She suffered afterward from short-term memory loss, seizures and sight problems, but her sense of humor was certainly never impaired.
She had to wear an eye patch temporarily, and when children stared or wondered about it, Ms. Langston simply told them she was a pirate and handed them a pocket schedule for the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team she adopted with zeal upon arrival in the city. She also rooted passionately in person for the Pitt Panthers, making frequent scoreboard appearances for her dancing antics.
She was known at other events for her Marilyn Monroe impersonations, or for enlivening the prayer groups she helped lead at Mt. Lebanon United Methodist Church by tacking a joke onto the prayers. After tai chi classes, which she took Downtown for many years, she would practice the exercise movements while waiting at her bus stop and try to teach them to strangers who happened to be waiting with her.
But Ms. Langston's biggest influence over the past decade may have been on the many elementary school kids she helped from the Hill District, Garfield, Homewood and other urban neighborhoods.
As an OASIS volunteer from 2001 until last year, she frequently took two buses to get from her home to Weil Elementary in the Hill to tutor students one-on-one in reading. She was known for toting an arsenal of items to give away to the kids -- pencils, stickers, postcards and more -- to make them feel special.
"She was like a breath of fresh air, always interested in other people and always making some comment that was positive," said Pam Diulus, who coordinated Weil's reading center at the time. "Kids just loved that she showed a great interest in them and was always happy."
Ms. Langston supplemented the reading help by becoming a mentor six years ago in the obesity prevention volunteer program run by OASIS. She would show up to talk about healthy snacking and other healthy options as part of after-school education efforts at the Fort Pitt and Arsenal elementary schools and at youth clubs.
Another volunteer, Janet Waters of Schenley Heights, said Ms. Langston thought nothing of getting the youngsters to listen to music of many decades ago and join her while she taught them the electric slide, boogaloo or another old dance.
"She was wonderful -- crazy wonderful," Ms. Waters said. "If she had any inhibitions, she hid them well."
In addition to her husband, Ms. Langston is survived by a son, Jeff of Turtle Creek; three daughters, Amy Langston of Las Vegas, Jessica Langston of Green Tree and Julia Field of Coos Bay, Ore; two brothers, Jimmy Joynes of Virginia Beach, Va., and Robert Joynes of Norfolk, Va.; and two grandchildren.
A memorial service will be at 10:30 a.m. today in Mt. Lebanon United Methodist Church, 3319 Washington Road. Burial will be in Norfolk.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Mt. Lebanon United Methodist Church Family Fund.
First Published January 10, 2012 12:00 am