Educator, Counselor, Public Speaker, Activist & Community Servant
“A Life of Loving Leadership and Committed Service”
The youngest of two children born to Walter Eugene and Victoria Elliott Lewis, Nellye Joyce arrived on July 21, 1921 in the farming town of Hungerford (Wharton County), Texas. The family’s move to the Historic Fifth Ward of Houston provided her with the opportunity to attend Bruce Elementary and Phillis Wheatley High School. As an outstanding scholar, Nellye Joyce graduated from Wheatley in 1937 at the age of fifteen and went immediately to Prairie View College as a Home Economics major. She later received her Masters of Arts degree in Education from Texas Southern University
While a student at Wheatley, she met one of the studious Punch brothers, Richard Henry, who after her graduation from college, proudly strolled down the Stevens Street sidewalk with her, hand-in-hand, to introduce his bride to his family and friends. The young coupled settled in their home on Bringhurst Street where they would raise their blended family which included daughters, Sheila Joyce and Delores Christine.
Having received her teaching certification in 1941, Nellye Joyce began her career as an educator with the Houston Independent School District at Kay Elementary School in Harrisburg in the Houston Ship Channel area. However, she found her true calling as a science teacher down the street from her home at E. O. Smith Junior High School, named for her former high school principal. She taught thousands of students during her 36 years in HISD, and later became Chair of the Science Department at Smith. After pursuing post graduate studies at Nebraska and Utah State Universities, Nellye Joyce became a licensed certified counselor. She also worked as a Consultant in the Research & Group Testing Department of HISD, as well as with the Diocese of Galveston/Houston and at various private schools.
Mrs. P, as she was often referred to, was known for her fondness and support of extra-curricular activities that improved the quality of life for the students she touched. She established the Y-Teens Chapter at Smith Jr. High which affiliated its student members with the diverse and national Young Women’s Christian Association during a time in which “inclusion” was a challenge. She was a strong advocate for improving educational opportunities for all children and improving the quality of life for residents through community services, improving access to health services and eradicating poverty. She was always known for her tireless efforts and service to her church, safeguarding the welfare of the young and elderly, developing programs aimed toward ensuring adequate housing for the poor, improving academic skills of inner city youth, addressing the teenage pregnancy dilemma and helping all citizens understand the political process and how to protect their rights. She would not leave a stone unturned whenever she was fighting for the rights of others, as city officials most often experienced.
Mrs. P was often referred to as “Fifth Ward’s unofficial Congresswoman” and sometimes “Mayor of Fifth Ward”. She demonstrated her active volunteerism in many tangible ways by: serving on countless boards, including the Lyons Avenue Health Clinic Advisory Board where she pioneered “Baby Buddy”, one of Houston’s most successful prenatal health care programs; the “Friends of the Library of TSU, where she coordinated and helped to provide books for children that were greatly needed for their studies or purchased furniture & furnishings for the browsing room of the library as well as magazine subscriptions and paperback collections for the main library; serving as a board member on boards like the Target Hunger Advisory Board, March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, Jensen Neighborhood Council, Visiting Nurses Association, Vice President of the League of Women Voters, Presbyterian Children’s Home and Service Agency, Cancer Education Project at TSU, lifetime member of the National Education Association, national board member of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Blue Triangle Branch YWCA, Houston Area Urban League Education Committee, Mayor’s Citizens Assistance Program, first Area Director of the Northeast Area Houston Teachers Association, member of the Texas State Teachers Association, National Science Teachers, YMCA and Jack and Jill of America, Inc. She was a member of the Executive Committee of the Houston Teachers Association and mentored many educators and university administrators.
Always a visionary leader, Mrs. P was a Past President of both the Phillis Wheatley Alumni Association and Houston Classroom Teachers Association. When the YWCA was encouraged to seek alternative operation of its Blue Triangle location, Mrs. Punch was one of the leaders who demanded that its ownership be transferred to the African American women who raised the funds for the land on which it sits. The energetic group, the Blue Triangle Association, recognized her leadership by designating her as the keynote speaker for the ten year celebration of its historical conveyance in 2010.
She loved her church, Pinecrest Presbyterian Church. She was a humble servant who was also committed to serving her church for over seventy years. She was an Adult Sunday school teacher, and served on the church by-laws committee, as well as a trustee and later an elder. If there was a program, she would help organize it, invite you to it and maybe even put you on it. She became the first African American and first woman to hold the position of Moderator of the Brazos Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of the United States.
Mrs. P helped to organize and open voting precinct Number 201 in Fifth Ward where she served as precinct judge. She set the standard of civic responsibility and was a role model for younger leaders like Barbara Jordan, Mickey Leland, Harold Dutton, El Franco Lee, Ruth Stubblefield Simmons and many others who were part of the Fifth Ward “close knit” community. Mrs. P was relentless and emerged as a dynamic, eloquent public speaker who was highly sought after during much of her adult life. Even after her retirement, she continued to work in the community that she loved as a community organizer. She was featured as one of the Outstanding Black Women in Houston by the Black History Exhibit Committee at HL&P in their exhibit “Black Women Achievements Against the Odds”; selected by the Houston Post as one of its “Women on the Move”; a 2012 Phillis Wheatley Alumni “Wall of Fame Honoree; and a recipient of the “Savvy Award”. In permanent recognition, she was selected by her community to be included in the stately, mosaic tile wall of the “Legends of Fifth Ward,” located in the right-of-way on Eastex Freeway, now designated as Interstate 69, near Lyons Avenue.
Mrs. P has completed her course and made her earthly transition to her new heavenly home where she joins her husband Richard, parents, and brother, John. Those who are left to cherish her extraordinary life and continue her legacy are: her daughters, Sheila A. Lockhart and Delores Christine Browne; grandsons, Sean C. Lockhart, Erran Booker (Erica), Kelly Boyd (Maria); great grandchildren, Autumn Denise, Kailan and Joycelyn; adopted son Robert D. “B.J.” Garrett, foster son Robert Lee Handy; Godsons Alfred Calloway and Wayne Lewis; as well as a host of friends, neighbors and many Houstonians who remain greatly appreciative of her genuine friendship and overwhelming commitment. The impact of her life on the Houston community and the nation will live on for generations to come. “Mrs. P” will be sorely missed.