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Joyce Family History - Detroit, Michigan

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Obituary article

Blind mother went back into burning house for children

December 29, 2003

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    When the fire in the house on Lakewood started in 1961, Bertha Joyce and her husband were inside with their 12 children.

    Before anyone knew what was happening, the house filled with smoke.

    "My mom was carrying us down the stairs," her daughter Jan Bartee said. "I'm one of the people she carried down. . . . She went up and down many, many times."

    When Detroit firefighters arrived, they said everyone was out, but Joyce refused to believe them.

    "My brother and sister had crawled into the attic," Bartee said. "My mother went back in and found my brother and sister, and then we all survived.

    "She was an amazing person."

    An understatement, considering Joyce was blind. So was her husband, Bill.

    An accident when she was 16 left her able to see only vague outlines -- but she refused to be stopped.

    She enrolled in the Michigan School for the Blind in Lansing. She learned braille. She learned to type. She ran track and played basketball.

    And when she graduated, she got a job as a switchboard operator.

    But once she married, a steady stream of babies kept her at home. She washed, she ironed, she cooked, she cleaned.

    And when given a chance, she danced.

    By 1955, all her vision was gone. But by 1995, a doctor said an operation might restore some of it.

    She went for it.

    "The next day was my birthday," Bartee said, "and she woke up and said, 'Jan, I can see you. You're beautiful.' "

    Her vision faded after only a year, but she was content: She had seen her children and her grandchildren.

    When Joyce died of complications from a stroke, she was 85. -- Jeanne May