Joyce Gray-Ritchie died peacefully in her sleep on Tuesday morning, October 31, at her home in Bartlesville. She was 94 years old. After a life of many accomplishments, Joyce will be most remembered by her family and many friends for her sense of humor, consideration of others, and integrity.
Joyce was born Norma Joyce Doolittle to Wade and Mable (Walters) Doolittle on December 8, 1928, in Hobart, Indiana. With her older sisters Jean, Barbara, and Betty, and her younger brothers Jay and John, she enjoyed a happy small-town childhood, surrounded by relatives and friends.
Joyce often spoke of this time in her life, when she lived in a house built by her father and grandfather, roller skated in the basement, played with her best friend Nancy across the street, and loved going to school. Possibly her favorite memory of childhood was of a time when she put a penny in a candy machine, which unexpectedly poured out all its candy. Joyce gathered up the candy in her skirt and raced home, where she and her brothers and sisters had a feast.
At age twelve, Joyce’s family moved to a farm near Lowell, Indiana. Joyce thought her new teachers were strict, but she learned to like them when she found out they offered dancing lessons after school. Joyce enjoyed riding a horse named Maude, swimming, fishing in the creek behind the farm, and helping raise the animals. Joyce once bought a chick to raise by herself, and it grew into a feisty rooster. Unfortunately, the pet rooster liked to chase the neighbors’ children, and one day her parents told her they had taken her rooster to live at another farm. Joyce became suspicious at dinner that night when the main dish was fried chicken.
After graduating from Lowell High School, Joyce moved to nearby Chicago, where she roomed with friends (including her lifelong friend Shirley Manes) at a women’s apartment house and worked as a secretary for the American Meter Company. This was an exciting time in her life, and Joyce enjoyed taking classes at Northwestern University, going to the shows of famous big bands like Lawrence Welk, and dining at fine restaurants. On a blind date at the Ice Capades, she met her future husband, Peter Gray, and they were married in Lowell on July 15, 1951.
Joyce and Peter moved to Berkeley, California, where Peter earned his doctorate. It was in Berkeley that Joyce gave birth to their first son, Peter Gordon Gray. After graduation they moved to Midland, Michigan, where Peter worked for Dow Chemical. Joyce gave birth to her second son, David Rygaard Gray, and enjoyed her many friends there, especially Don and Judy Clarey. Sadly, it was also where her baby boy Philip Wright Gray died shortly after his birth in 1960.
The following year, the family moved to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, where Peter worked at the Phillips Research Center. They were soon blessed with another son, Eric Rygaard Gray, and with a daughter, Nancy Joyce Perkinson. In 1965, they built their home at the top of a hill in Woodland Park where Joyce was to live for the next 58 years.
Joyce enjoyed being with people, so she participated in many activities during those years, including weekly afternoon bridge clubs, and more formal nighttime bridge clubs, with friends like Carol and Bill Stewart, and Donna and Dale Tolin. She also participated in Bartlesville Art Association, Bartlesville Astronomical Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, Oklahoma Energy Resource Board, Washington County Retired Teachers Association, Red Hat Society, Methodist church groups, RSU-TV board, dances at the 55+ Activity Center, and various reading groups.
At home, Joyce was an excellent housewife who kept a clean and healthy house. She cooked nearly every family meal from scratch, and her best dishes included meatloaf, chicken and dumplings, casseroles of every type, fried chicken, pigs in a blanket, pastries, cookies, pies with perfect crusts, and chocolate cake. Joyce always looked forward to the holidays, when the family ate with the families of friends Phil and Fern Kent, as well as Paul and Betty Webb. Joyce encouraged her childrens’ interest in sports by driving them to football practice, baseball practice, Splash Club workouts, and track meets.
One of Joyce’s favorite places was a cabin on Lake Superior, where the family vacationed every summer. While there, Joyce enjoyed sunning on the beach, swimming in the lake, fishing, hiking, and gardening. She loved spending time with her neighbor and friend June Rydholm, and with the Turners, who lived next door. However, ever active, Joyce spent much of her time rebuilding and improving the cabin. Joyce was proud of the result, and she loved it when friends visited.
In the 1970s, Joyce returned to college, attending Bartlesville Wesleyan College (now Oklahoma Wesleyan University). She graduated with a degree in Elementary Education in 1982. Her teaching career began with teaching science and art at McKinley, after which she taught at Kane. Eventually, Joyce became a science specialist, traveling to the grade schools and showing teachers how to perform experiments and teach science effectively. After retirement from Bartlesville Public Schools, Joyce taught for a number of years at St. John Catholic School and then Wesleyan Christian School.
One of Joyce’s most memorable experiences was a trip to the Country Music Awards, which she won from a local radio station. She took a fellow teacher and friend, Carol Green. At the CMAs, Joyce and Carol met and talked with singers like Willie Nelson, and she met the love of her life, George Strait. From then on, George was her favorite singer.
In her retirement, Joyce enjoyed activities for seniors such as Elderhostel, where she met Carroll Ritchie. At a picnic, Joyce was taking the pickles off a cheeseburger when one flew off in the wind and hit Carroll’s leg, which was the beginning of their romance. Carroll and Joyce married in 1997, and they enjoyed many active years of hiking, fishing, traveling, and sightseeing, often taking their RV across the country.
After Carroll passed in 2016, Joyce focused on keeping active with her friends, including Pat Tracy, Barbara Anderson, and Nila Seidel. Her son Eric became her caretaker, and she enjoyed long rides in the car, playing with her dog, reading, cooking, and watching The Lawrence Welk Show and Pioneer Woman Cooks. Tragedy struck in 2020, when her oldest son Peter died.
One blessing of her later years was her dachshund, Oscar, who protected and loved her. She loved phone calls and visits from friends like Chris Doolittle, Carol Kent Stewart, Patty Durr, and Pat Tracy. Another blessing was her Visiting Angel, Paige Harris, who kept Joyce happy, active, and healthy even while Joyce struggled with heart failure and dementia. Remarkably, Joyce was happy and aware of her friends and relatives to the very end of her life.
Joyce’s burial will be in the Garden of the Last Supper, in the northeast corner of Memorial Park Cemetery. She will be buried next to one of her favorite people, Betty Webb, and husband Paul Webb. Nearby are her friends Phil and Fern Kent, and friend Mary Lou Jardine. As in life, she will be surrounded by friends, and we hope they are playing bridge together in heaven.
Joyce is survived by brother Jay Doolittle and his wife Donna of Knoxville, TN; sister-in-law Chris Doolittle of Tullahoma, TN; son David Gray and his wife Becky Lipstate of Lafayette, IN; son Eric Gray and his wife Ginny of Bartlesville, OK; daughter Nancy Perkinson and her husband Bruce of Fort Smith, AR; numerous cousins, nieces, and nephews; and six grandchildren, Megan Gray, Molly Gray, Hank Gray, Mariel Young, Beck Williams, and Sydney Brinkley. A memorial service to celebrate Joyce’s life will take place at Bartlesville First Church on Saturday, November 4, 2023, at 1:00 pm.
In celebration of Joyce’s life, please consider donations to the Dementia Society of America (dementiasociety.org).
Services have been entrusted to Arnold Moore & Neekamp Funeral Home. Online condolences can be left at www.honoringmemories.com.