Friends, family members and former students remember Joyce Ackley Gillie as a powerhouse who fiercely advocated for local children and helped shape Thurston County.
About 100 people gathered Saturday at Olympia’s First Christian Church to share memories of Gillie and celebrate her life. Gillie died Jan. 27 at her Tumwater home. She was nearing her 92nd birthday.
“She was really tenacious, tough and strong,” said Pastor Amy La Croix. “But she was also loving and caring.”
Gillie exercised those traits during her long career as a public educator, La Croix said. Gillie worked for the Olympia School District for 42 years, serving as principal for Lincoln, Roosevelt, Mclane and Garfield elementary schools during her lengthy career. She extended her work beyond the schools as an active member of the Thurston County Democrats, First Christian Church, The Washington Center for the Performing Arts and Zonta, a professional organization for women.
She was also a founding member of the Child Care Action Council.
Shelly Willis and Gail Dahlhoff, who knew Gillie through Zonta, said Gillie’s students always remembered her. The trio worked at the Zonta German Sausage booth together at Capital Lakefair for more than 20 years, and Gillie spent most of her time greeting former students who stopped by to see her.
“We were thinking that this year we’d get her a chair so that she could just sit outside and greet people,” Willis said.
In 2011, Gillie was the first female grand marshal of the Capital Lakefair Grand Parade. Willis said Gillie was very proud of the honor.
Jena Embry Loes remembers Gillie as her principal when she attended Roosevelt Elementary. She said that, at the time, she didn’t think of Gillie as remarkable — she thought the principal was firm but fair.
But looking back, Embry Loes believed Gillie was remarkable, a strong woman in a man’s world.
“I think that if she were here right now, she would point her finger and say, ‘We have work to do!’ ” Embry Loes said.
Gillie was also loved by her family. Her husband, Paul Gillie, died in 2001. Joyce Gillie is survived by three stepchildren: Jim Gillie, Arlene Williams and Tim Gillie. She is also survived by three nephews: Steve Gillie, Bryan Ackley and Michael Ackley.
Steve Gillie, who came from Kansas to celebrate his aunt’s life, said he thought of Joyce Gillie as a mother.
“She was powerful,” Gillie said. “And she was committed to this whole community.”
La Croix said she remembers her former parishoner as a role model for all women.
“She was strong in a time when women weren’t supposed to be strong,” La Croix said.
“Women like her paved the way for women like me.”