Joy Coghill Thorne (1926-2017): Acclaimed Actor, Director, and Playwright, Social Innovator, Educator, and much loved Mother and Friend
Joy Coghill Thorne believed in the arts – and made good use of the special power they hold. In her words: “Because we are privileged to be artists, we do not measure time in the accepted way. We know that one can live a lifetime in the last five minutes before we “go on” and that on the occasion when the play is “blessed,” there is no time at all; the play is over even as it began.”
Honoured many times by the performing arts communities she nurtured, Joy Coghill Thorne passed away on Friday, January 20th in the palliative care unit of St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. She had been admitted a few days earlier after suffering massive heart failure.
Joy’s extensive career and trail-blazing energy led to lifetime achievement honours by the UBCP/ACTRA in November 2016, and by the City of Vancouver in 2015. She was inducted as a member of the Order of Canada in 1991 and was a recipient of the Governor General’s Award for the Performing Arts in 2002. Joy received honourary doctorates from the University of British Columbia (1995) and Simon Fraser University (1994) and in the early 1970s she was head of the English section of the National Theatre School of Canada.
The first woman to hold the position of artistic director of the Vancouver Playhouse from 1967-1969, Joy founded Canada’s first professional theatre, Holiday Theatre, in 1953. Over 40 years later, in 1994, she founded Western Gold, a company for senior actors now associated with PAL Vancouver. One of her best-known works as a playwright is Song of This Place about Emily Carr; while viewers of CBC’s dramatic series DaVinci’s Inquest will remember here as Devinci’s mother, Portia.
Beyond her work on stage and in film and television, Joy dedicated herself to working on behalf of members of the performing arts community, many of whom have modest incomes and few benefits. In 2001, she co-founded the Performing Arts Lodge Vancouver with Jane Heyman, which provides affordable housing and a vibrant network of support for veterans of the city’s performing arts communities.
Joy is predeceased by her husband of fifty-five years, John G. Thorne. She is survived by her three children, Debra (Theo Boere) Gordon (Michelle Lalonde), and David. And by her grandchildren Casey and Lucy.
In lieu of flowers, Joy’s family asks that you please consider donating to THE JOY COGHILL LEGACY FUND at PAL Vancouver www.palvancouver.org. If you would like to join PAL friends in building THE JOY COGHILL LEGACY FUND, please contribute online at www.palvancouver.org in memory of Joy; or mail your “PAL Vancouver” donation with “in memory of Joy” on the memo line, to 300-581 Cardero St., Vancouver, BC, V6G 3L3.