Joyce C. Roche, 70, of Philadelphia, a longtime special-education teacher in the Philadelphia School District, died Friday, Jan. 4, of cancer in the VITAS hospice unit at Nazareth Hospital.
Ms. Roche had three important areas of concentration in life, said her niece, Shelley Sylva. They were her family, her church, and the city’s sports teams.
The daughter of Vernice and Joseph Jones, she was born in Abington, spent her early childhood in Oreland, and then moved with her family to the Germantown section of Philadelphia, where she graduated from Germantown High School.
Ms. Roche was baptized at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church as a child, and remained a member throughout her life.
“Joyce loved the Lord, Enon, and her pastor, Alyn Waller,” Sylva said. Ms. Roche was a staple of Enon, singing in several church choirs and as a member of the the Lott Carey Ministry, the missionary arm of the church. Ms. Roche enjoyed making announcements in church each Sunday morning.
Ms. Roche received a bachelor’s degree from Cheyney University in 1970 and was certified in special education. After her training, she began teaching at Roosevelt Junior High School and then continued her career at Roxborough High School. She retired from the city school district in 2000 after a 30-year career.
“She loved it,” said her niece. “She liked to joke that she was special and could relate to the kids. But she believed they needed her more [than other children] and that’s why she wanted to be with them. She believed that they could grow and have potential.”
Ms. Roche was an avid sports fan and held season tickets for both the Sixers and the Eagles. When the Eagles won the Super Bowl last February, she was ecstatic and celebrated the win with her family.
Ms. Roche met and married Antoine Small Sr. The couple had one son before divorcing.
“Joyce was a loving mother,” Sylva said. “She ensured Antoine was exposed to everything the world had to offer, including travel.”
Ms. Roche visited Cuba, South Africa, Senegal, China, and various countries in South America, accompanied either by her son or a tour group. This past August, she took her last trip, a cruise to Italy, Spain, and France, with her sister, Lorene, and a close female friend.
In retirement, she became the caregiver for her mother and an aunt.
When Antoine had his own family, Ms. Roche embraced the role of grandmother and great-grandmother.
“She was always encouraging, guiding, and most importantly, loving them,” said her niece.
She was a longtime member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s Rho Theta Omega Chapter; a 2006 cofounder and member of the National Association of University Women’s Suburban Philadelphia Branch; and a member of the Cheyney University Alumni Association’s Montgomery County Chapter.
In addition to her sister, niece, and son, she is survived by two grandchildren; a great-grandchild; two brothers; and nieces and nephews.
A viewing starting at 8 a.m. Monday, Jan. 14, will be followed by a 10 a.m. celebration of life at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, 230 W. Coulter St., Philadelphia. Burial will be in Whitemarsh Memorial Park in Ambler.