Reflecting on a job well done

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 09:14
Joyce Little made the Star what it is across three decades

Joyce Little has been the face of advertising in Eagle River and in this newspaper for decades.

Even though she retired from the Star in 2007, it was a shock this week to see her familiar face, with the brief story that her long battle with cancer was over.

But it not the illness, but the way she lived and worked with energy and dignity that will always define Joyce.

She left a successful career in nursing to come to work for former Star owner Lee Jordan in the late 1980s.

“I wondered about that change,” Jordan reflected this week. “But she was a go-getter and was very loyal to the paper. Conscientious is the word I’d use for her.”

For most of the time they worked together, Joyce was Jordan’s entire ad department.

“I just had Joyce most of the time. Occasionally I’d bring in a second person, but she really didn’t like the competition!”

Joyce’s success was not based on previous sales experience, but on her desire to help the Star’s advertisers get results, Jordan said. In that role, she touched and helped thousands of businesses grow and prosper in Eagle River. She also threw herself into work with the Chamber of Commerce.

This was all the more compelling given that she was fighting cancer virtually her entire career at the Star.

“She didn’t let the adversity slow her down,” he said.

That’s truly what defined Joyce — dealing with challenges with quiet dignity and fierce determination.

“She was an ornery spitfire,” her daughter Laura Simkins laughed this week.

“She took great pride in working at the paper. She really enjoyed it, most doing Merry Merchant Munch at Christmas. It was a big deal to her,” Simkins said. “She had the tenacity to get the job done. Do well with it. It was her sense of integrity.

“In her yard, as an example, she would never have been able to let a shutter be loose on the house or let a flower stay wilted,” she said.

Her commitment to detail carried over to her work.

“She did this dressing to nines…always carrying on in a positive, professional way,” her daughter said.

“She had a sense of pride and of doing it herself.”

Doing it herself was a way of life for Joyce, who raised two young daughters alone after her first husband died.

“For many years as a single mom to two girls, she worked her butt off at the hospital, working nights, to make sure we had good clothes to wear,” Laura said. “To live with integrity.

“It was not her style to have somebody helping her. It was important to step up, to do it all herself, to be the provider when all else failed. And not ever give up.

“She never made any excuses for her illness. You never heard her complain about her cancer.”

Joyce dealt with several bouts of the disease. Laura recalls coming home when she was 12 to her mother recovering from skin cancer treatment, eyes bandaged.

“She dealt with it very matter-of-fact…‘we are going to get over it and move on…take on the next challenge.’”

Joyce was our advertising director for the Alaska Star from when Morris Communications purchased the paper from Lee Jordan in 2000 until she retired in 2007.

She often worked alone and always focused on taking good care of the people of Eagle River.

I worked from a distance with Joyce for half a dozen years before her retirement.

My job then was to help all the Morris Alaska newspapers including the Star do a better job with ad sales.

Her unstated job was to keep me for doing too much harm to the Star.

We both succeeded after a fashion.

Weekly newspapers are possible and succeed because of dedicated, sometimes hard-headed professionals like Joyce; people who don’t just believe in what they do, but live it every day.

She taught me what made the community unique, why it would always be its own and apart from Anchorage.

She was direct, business and matter-of-fact. She talked about her battles with cancer and the loss of her husband with the same direct calm as she did in discussing challenges of the job — matter-of-fact, determined.

Joyce was fiercely loyal to the Star, to her community and to her friends — who also happened to be our customers.

Even in the past year, she would call me periodically to make suggestions or express concerns.

She was also quick to offer praise for the new staff carrying in her footsteps.

“Take care of Our Star,” she’d always say.

We will Joyce. Job well done.


Lee Leschper is Alaska regional vice president for Morris Communications publications in Alaska including the Star.

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