Murrell, Joyce Voyce

Murrell, Joyce Voyce

Joyce Voyce Murrell, 79, died in peace on January 10, 2020, leaving behind a family who loved her and a world much less interesting for the loss of her enthusiasm, curiosity, and unique gift for helping others. 

Her survivors include her husband, Kenneth Darwin Murrell of Rockville, Maryland; her children Duncan Voyce Murrell of Pittsboro, North Carolina, and Amy Murrell Taylor of Lexington, Kentucky, and their spouses; her grandchildren Caroline and Sarah Anne Murrell of Pittsboro, North Carolina, and Katie and Alexandra Taylor, of Lexington, Kentucky; and her sister Janet Rand of Wilson, North Carolina. 

Joyce was born in 1940 in Flint, Michigan, to June Adrain Voyce and James Voyce. She grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and attended Ottawa Hills High School, where she was active in the student council. She spent many hours during summers on Hubbard Lake exploring the natural world. At the University of Michigan, she received both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in biology. 

She met Darwin during a summer at the University of Michigan Biological Station. There is some disagreement over who asked whom, but the marriage proposal involved a pair of sneakers being thrown into a lake. Joyce and Darwin were married 54 years. 

Before she was married, Joyce pursued a career as a high school teacher, first as a biology teacher at Newton North High School in Newton, Massachusetts, and then at the old Durham High School in Durham, North Carolina. In the early years of their marriage, as the Vietnam War raged, Joyce and Darwin moved to Taipei, Taiwan, where Darwin served in a U.S. Navy Medical Research Unit, and where Joyce taught at the American School and spent time devouring Chinese culture and learning to cook from local chefs. After a few years in Chicago, they settled in Rockville Maryland. 

Joyce eagerly assumed many roles in her broader community: mother, spouse, grandmother, substitute teacher, 4-H leader, Montgomery County Fair volunteer, Democratic Party precinct chair, and collector of everything from books to apple peelers to Danish landscape paintings. In her lifetime she and Darwin traveled to Asia and Europe, and lived for three years in Copenhagen. 

For a long-time she worked as a curatorial volunteer at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, where she specialized in lovingly caring for items in the Native American collection and preparing them for storage. The experience of preparing a child’s carrier found on the battlefield at Wounded Knee convinced her that all such items should be repatriated. This was typical of her: she let experience transform and deepen her ethics and morality, and she put those values into practice with persistence. A successful participant in many NCAA basketball pools, she never picked a team to win if she thought their coach was unkind. She was a teacher at heart. 

She also loved beautiful things, especially objects — mustard pots, boxes, carved gourds, cups — that bore the signs that someone had fashioned it with care. She was herself a champion in competitive knitting and craft contests. Her gift-wrapping skills — and she gave lots of gifts — are legendary in her family. She taught both of her children how to arrange flowers. 

She was always willing to help people, especially kids, and she felt the pain of others in a very deep and personal way. She gave everything to her children. Her family takes solace in knowing that she lives on in us, and that she has shaped us forever. She was a force.

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