Joan C. Becker

To the end of her days, her unexpected off-beat witticisms still could give a laugh to family and friends.

Joan C. Becker, who for 20 years was co-owner and co-publisher of the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber with her husband Jay, died April 4th at their Burton home, just two weeks after her 90th birthday.

Upon taking over the newspaper in 1975, the Beckers found its financial condition far more dire than anticipated, and Joan’s hard work whipping its finances into shape saved the business from ruin. She soon made a name as “the fastest checkbook in town” in her successful effort to show the Vashon business community that the new team could be trusted to pay their bills – but also was known as a stern voice on the telephone collecting long unpaid advertising debts to keep the paper afloat.

A stay-at-home mom in Kirkland when she and Jay, a long time reporter, began seeking a newspaper to buy, Joan established a local baby-sitting co-op to free up time to take a job at a local weekly and learn all she could about newspaper production. She soon went on to manageThe Beachcomber’s back shop as well as its front office, while Jay wrote, edited, took photos and sold ads. Though his byline headed most articles in the paper, Jay was always adamant that the real story of The Beachcomber’s remarkable survival and success was written by the powerful partnership with his talented, hard-working wife.

After selling The Beachcomber to Sound Publishing in 1995, the couple, in semi-retirement, became a popular consulting team for weekly papers across the state that needed experienced interim management during crises and transitions. In all, the Beckers at one time or another personally ran seven of Washington’s small town papers, for periods ranging from a week to a year.

Joan Cortelyou was born and raised in the Sea Cliff district of San Francisco, where Dianne Feinstein was a neighbor and kindergarten playmate. Joan walked her Irish Setters on cliffs and beaches in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. At the posh Katherine Delmar Burke girls academy, she often brought classmates to laughter with her sharp, dry wit, for which she would be known all her life. Joan considered Burke’s merely a finishing school, and on graduation felt lucky but somewhat unprepared to be accepted to Stanford, where she would take a degree in anthropology.

There she met Jay Becker, a journalism major from Seattle, at a sophomore weekend beach party where he impressed her by cooking her an egg in the ashes of a campfire. They were instantly an item and eloped soon after college. The couple couldn’t wait for the big wedding her parents envisioned, but in anticipation of his imminent draft into the Korean conflict, were married by a justice of the peace in Phoenix, where Joan began work right out of college to help start, set up and assistant-curate the now-famous Heard Museum.

Joan said when she brought home her new husband, her mother threw a reception for her society friends – and insisted Joan display her trim figure in the tightest dress she could find, to make clear to all that there was no premarital bun in the oven! The couple had their first of three sons later, at the Fort Riley army base where Jay worked on the military newspaper. She took the baby along to her job setting type for two Kansas agricultural publications. Two other sons were born in Ellensburg and, later, Kirkland, while Jay worked for weekly papers there.

Her lifelong love of dogs led her to serve on the board of Vashon Island Pet Protectors, offering her own home over many years to foster upwards of two hundred dogs of all types waiting to be adopted. She took her role very seriously, carefully vetting each adoptive household to ensure they were ready to properly care for the canine, and that the pooch truly suited the family. If Joan didn’t feel it was right, the match did not happen.

Joan was a great supporter of the Vashon arts scene and filled their Burton home of 50 years with paintings and sculptures by Island artists bought at VAA auctions and gallery showings. She stocked fine art materials in Vashon’s first office supply store, which she started in the Beachcomber’s front shop afterIslanders kept coming in to ask the newspaper staff where they got their stationery and supplies.

Joan and Jay drove their small RV to every state in the USA including Alaska, to all the Canadian provinces, and to Mexico, sticking to back roads to discover quirky small towns and wilderness beauty off the beaten path.The two flew to many faraway countries visiting their sons, who all worked overseas at different times.

The Beckers were honored as Grand Marshals of the Strawberry Festival Parade for their long service to the Island. The love of hiking and walking that she shared throughout more than 70 years together with her husband – on mountains, roads and beaches, with countless family dogs now long gone – continued until her final year, when she became increasingly disabled by Parkinsonism and dementia. As her brain’s language area was damaged, she developed a habit of unwittingly speaking in the schoolgirl French and German she learned long ago. Her condition eventually robbed her of her full conversational skills and even of her memory of the many years when she proofed and copy-edited every word that went into this newspaper. But to the end of her days, as in her school days, her unexpected off-beat witticisms still could give a laugh to family and friends, like her loyal and dedicated caregivers, every day.

Joan Becker is survived by her husband Jay; her sons David (and wife Celenia), Marc (and husband Gary) and Alan; and her granddaughters Daniela, Alana and Nicki. A memorial service will be announced at a later date.

Donations in lieu of flowers can be made to Vashon Island Pet Protectors.

Photo credits: Parker Photos (portrait); Coco Carson-Rohe (couple)