Dr. Joseph Joyner: A Popumentary

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Joseph Joyner, 1925-2017

Joseph Joyner

Longtime pediatrician Joseph Joyner, better known as “Pop” by those closest to him, passed away Oct. 25, after decades of taking care of newborn babies and kids in hospitals across San Diego. He was 92.

A memorial service will be held Nov. 13 at 11 a.m. at Santa Sophia Catholic Church located at 9800 San Juan Street in Spring Valley.

Joyner was born Jan. 9, 1925 in Daytona Beach, Florida, to Joseph Joyner and Florida Louise Joyner. As a young boy delivering newspapers, Joyner noticed his local church. There he converted to Catholicism and began to attend Mass.

A passion for music led him to play the trumpet in his teenage years for Pastor Burdine and His 15 Hip Deacons, but since his childhood, Joyner was an avid violin player, a habit he carried out with regular lessons his entire life. His favorites were Christmas songs and carols.

When he was 16 years old, Joe lied about his age to enter World War II, serving his country in Europe (Sicily, Italy), North Africa (Morocco, Algeria), and Asia (Philippines).

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In January 1946, the G.I. Bill brought him to Morehouse College in Atlanta. There he met a nursing student named Charlie Williams at a nursing school dance. The two married shortly after Joyner graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Biology.

While living in Atlanta, Joyner enjoyed hearing the social philosophy evoked in sermons by Martin Luther King, Sr. at Ebenezer Baptist Church and William Holmes Borders at Wheat Street Baptist Church.

Though the two did not travel in the same social circles, Joyner and Martin Luther King, Jr. attended Morehouse at the same time. There they took a philosophy class together where arguments took place about the meaning of logic, religion, and the words of philosophers like Plato.

A passion for teaching and science led him to seek further education at the University of Chicago and Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, where Charlie and Joe welcomed their first daughter, Vallera, to the world in 1950.

In 1962, Joyner became a medical doctor with a degree from Meharry Medical College. Joyner taught medicine at Meharry from 1954 to 1965.

joyner family circa 1970

joyner family circa 1970

 

An interest in viral diseases like smallpox would lead him to Madras, India, for the World Health Organization and to Sorbonne University in France to work as a visiting fellow and lecturer.

In 1967, he moved to San Diego to establish a medical practice with his wife’s brother Matthew Williams. Working as a pediatrician and part-time clinical assistant professor at UC San Diego, Joyner became San Diego’s first African-American pediatrician. His practice began in hospitals around San Diego but later focused on Southeast San Diego, then a center of black San Diego.

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Joseph Joyner plays with his great grandchild Kai Johnson. Holding Kai is Zahra Matson, accompanied by her sister Saran Johnson.

In 1974, Joyner joined a group of 11 physicians known as the Western Medical Group to establish Southeast Medical Center, a $2 million health center at 286 Euclid Ave. near Market Street and Euclid Avenue.

Built entirely with private money, Joyner recalled more than 20 doctors, surgeons, and dentists sharing the space that included x-ray, laboratory, and pharmaceutical services. Today the facility is still a thriving part of the Euclid Health Center.

Joyner primarily did charitable work at Southeast Medical Center and worked at San Diego’s major hospitals, including Children’s Hospital, Mercy Hospital, Paradise Valley Hospital, UCSD Medical Center and Scripps Memorial Hospital in Chula Vista. He also practiced medicine at the Southern California Medical Clinic in National City until 1992.

During the 1990s, Joyner served as a missionary and pediatrician in Chikore, Zimbabwe, a city, locals told Joyner, that hadn’t had a regular physician for 50 years. There he would treat patients with malaria, AIDS, measles and tuberculosis.

He was an active volunteer with the St. Vincent de Paul unit at Santa Sophia Catholic Church in Spring Valley, helping with the church food pantry. Joyner enjoyed playing tennis, reading historical biographies, gardening, and spending time with his 13 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren.

He is survived by Mary Brown, his companion of about 25 years, as well as daughters Vallera Joyner, Dean Joyner, Yvonne Levette, Kelli Joyner, and son Joseph W. Joyner, Jr.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to a scholarship fund for health club youth at Jackie Robinson Family YMCA in San Diego.

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Joseph and Mary

 

Da Grey Ghost: A Popumentary

In 2009 I did a series of interviews with Joseph Joyner. His family calls him Pop. Some people know him as their old doctor, a life saver for premature or sick babies and San Diego’s first African American pediatrician.

In Zimbabwe he’s known as a missionary. In India he may be known as a researcher of pandemics and viruses. To friends of the family and members of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity he may be known as that trash talking old man. To me he’s grandpa, and the only person I’ve ever met who threatened to haunt me when he dies by tickling my feet when I sleep.

As part of the celebration of his 90th birthday those interviews were drawn together for what I call a Popumentary.

I wanted to safely capture part of my family’s history. Yes so that I don’t forget but also for my daughter and future ancestors so that they understand who Joseph Joyner is and are able to   part for retention of my family’s stop

I interviewed pop because he has an amazing story to tell, because despite short stature he is a giant; a man who met his father once but raised five children and ensured the health of tens of thousands of kids as a neonatologist and pediatrician.

A man who lied about his age to enter World War II, argued philosophy with Martin Luther King Jr., has a history of volunteerism and has played a violin for the better part of the last century.

I want people to have easy access to the Popumentary so the video is intentionally broken into 30 bite-size pieces and organized into a playlist on YouTube, so viewers have the choice to see one part or continuously watch the edited interview in its entirety.

Embedded below is the Popumentary playlist and a link to each question that comes together to make the Popumentary.

1. My Zoot Suit and Pastor Burdine and His 15 Hip Deacons

2. When and how did you start to play the violin?

3. What do you love?

4. From Florida to the Army to Morehouse

5. Arguing with MLK, Morehouse and Philosophy

6. 13 Quick Questions

7. As a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?

8. The one and only time I met my father

9. I never wanted to practice medicine: Virology, India and Coming to San Diego

10. What are your hopes for future generations?

11. Are there any objects that have been handed down in your family?

12. My Daughters

13. Why did you join the Army?

14. Where were you when the atomic bomb dropped?

15. Rest leave in Rome and meeting the Pope

16. Becoming Catholic

17. Meeting my wife Charlie Williams

18. What were the qualities that attracted you to your wife?

19. What struggles have you overcome in life?

20. What do you want to pass on?

21. What truths do you hope your ancestors understand about life?

22. Did you run into a lot of racism in your work professionally?

23. What did you enjoy most about having children?

24. Christmas memories

25. What qualities did grandma try to instil in your children?

26. What qualities did you try to instill in your children?

27. Did you go to segregated schools? What were your experiences with Jim Crow?

28. Neonatologist Before Neonatologist

29. What was it like work with your brother in law Matthew Williams or being San Diego’s first black pediatrician?

30. How are things different now than when you were growing up?

#Pop90 in Social Media

Joseph Joyner is the kind of guy who has an endless sense of discovery. That’s why at 90 years of age he still takes time to surf the web, update his Facebook profile and most days can be seen on an iPad.

And that’s why for his 90th birthday party we asked people use #pop90 for anything they shared in social media before, during or after the party. Some of that content is shared here.

Dr Joseph Joyner telling me I can sit on his lap at his party. He was the first black pediatrician in San Diego. lol #pop90

Dr Joseph Joyner telling me I can sit on his lap at his party. He was the first black pediatrician in San Diego. lol #pop90

Dr J playing his violin for his guests.

Dr J playing his violin for his guests.

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Before the party, family got together to prepare desserts and flower centerpieces.

Before the party, family got together to prepare desserts and flower centerpieces.

Briana and Dean with baby Xavier.

Briana and Dean with baby Xavier.

Before the party, family got together to prepare desserts and flower centerpieces.

Before the party, family got together to prepare desserts and flower centerpieces.

Joseph and Charlie Joyner's five children.

Joseph and Charlie Joyner’s five children.

Before the party, family got together to prepare desserts and flower centerpieces.

Before the party, family got together to prepare desserts and flower centerpieces.

Before the party, family got together to prepare desserts and flower centerpieces.

Before the party, family got together to prepare desserts and flower centerpieces.

Before the party, family got together to prepare desserts and flower centerpieces.

Before the party, family got together to prepare desserts and flower centerpieces.