Last night, the State of Rhode Island lost one of its most passionate advocates. Last night, the State of Rhode Island lost one of the most courageous men that I have ever personally known. Last night, John Joyce, co-founder of the RI Homeless Advocacy Project, lost his battle with cancer. Ironically, John Joyce’s life-work was always about tomorrow night.
I have known John Joyce since the days of layups and pressure defenses of St. Rose of Lima CYO youth basketball. In those days John was referred to as Johnnie. Back then, our futures seemed bright and as carefree as the smooth release Johnnie had on his jump shot. We came from similar families – Irish working-class and of modest means. During high school our paths diverted and for more than 35 years our paths did not cross, until one day on the second floor of the Rhode Island State House. We became reacquainted that day and I subsequently learned of the difficult path John’s life had taken. I learned how John had become advocate for homeless people in Rhode Island. From that day on I looked forward to those brief hallway moments talking with John. For the next several years I watched John work the hallways and the committee rooms at the State House. I watched him button-hole various legislators while he made his argument. I found myself, very often, just watching him do his passionate and courageous work. We were a long way away from playing basketball in the St. Rose of Lima gym.
John Joyce was a passionate fighter and a courageous advocate and, I dare say, a very effective lobbyist. During the homeless bill of rights battle I watched John give an incredible speech in the Rotunda of the State House. I have seen hundreds of people give speeches in the Rotunda, but none moved me like John’s did that day. After John’s speech ended and the rally broke up, our paths crossed again on the second floor of the State House, just like they did that first day. I told John his speech was incredible and he was courageous to fight for what he believed in. I let him know I was inspired by him. As I stood there with my eyes filled up with tears, John flashed a big smile and said, “Look at us two kids from Warwick making a difference.”
There have been times throughout my career that I have wondered if I have made a difference, but hearing that from a man who I believed with all my heart had made a difference, I was reassured.
Last June, during one of the last nights of the General Assembly session, John and I were sitting in the House gallery. I remember it was warm and very humid. John told me about his next battle – beating cancer. John said he believed that he would beat the terrible disease, explaining that he had won all the previous battles in his life and he would beat his cancer battle, too. Again, John displayed the incredible courage that he possessed.
Last night, we lost one of the most courageous men that I have known. My heartfelt condolences and prayers go out to John’s family and friends.
John, may you rest in peace!