Armstrong: Joyce Ann Poindexter touched a lot of lives

joyce21
Joyce Ann Poindexter

I  don't often  write about people who die of natural causes.

That's the job of obituary writers.

But every so often, I hear of  someone who's such an integral part of  the Philly scene that I'm moved to make an exception. Joyce "Starr" Ann Poindexter  was one of those people. "Miss Joyce," as many of us called her, was a fixture at local jam sessions and movie screenings organized by her son, Mister Mann Frisby. She died Feb. 1 at 67 from complications from a stroke. 

She didn't have a fancy job title or a lot of money.  Nor was she an educated woman - unless you count street smarts or what she gleaned from all the books she trash-picked over the years.  Generous to a fault, she was known to pick up clothing at thrift stores and consignment shops and save it in case she came across someone in need. She did the same thing with books.

Don't get me wrong.  She wasn't a saint. Far from it. She'd tell you off if you crossed her.  Also, there are huge chunks of her life when she  was deep in her substance addiction that friends and family would rather not even discuss.  Whenever the subject came up while she was alive, Poindexter would make a point of letting you know how long she had been sober. At the time of her death, she had been clean for 24 years.

She grew up in South Philadelphia, the daughter of Harry Coates and Rosella Hurst Poindexter.  She  attended  John Bartram High School but left  without a diploma. However, Poindexter took with her a lifelong thirst for reading that she shared with her children, grandchildren, countless friends and total strangers. 

"In the South Philly projects, [we had] a big closet behind the front door that a lot of people used as a coat closet or to store stuff; she turned the space into a small library nook. ... People would come and borrow from it," recalled Frisby, a long-time Daily News contributor and a former staff reporter.   "She was very adamant: 'You'd better bring my book back. You're not getting another book unless you bring that book back.'" 

During her 30s, she returned to school and got her GED, and also became a certified nursing assistant. The mother of six would regale listeners with funny stories of things she'd witnessed.

 "She loved working with those patients. Through the years, she drove a paratransit van," recalled Frisby, author of the novels Blinking Red Light and Wifebeater. "She was selling my book [on it]. People still come up to me and say, 'I bought Blinking Red Light when your mom picked me up on  paratransit.' I'm like, what? They say, 'Yeah, the books were stacked on the front seat.'"

 A huge fan of performing artists such as James Brown, Smokey Robinson, and Marvin Gaye, Poindexter  was a regular at the popular jam sessions thrown by her son.  Even after she'd suffered a stroke and leaned heavily on a cane to get around, she would still show up.   At movie screenings, she was infamous for sneaking in cakes that she'd pass out once the lights dimmed.  People would flock around her to be sure and get some. The last time I saw her, she slipped me a chocolate cupcake at a screening for Miles Ahead,  starring Don Cheadle. 

Poindexter was the type of woman who never met a stranger.  She chatted people up easily. The year that my father died, she baked me a pink layer cake for my birthday and surprised me by bringing it to the newsroom. I ate it through tears.

No stranger to the mean streets of Philly, Poindexter appreciated a good hustle and wasn't above using her street smarts to get rent money, which was frequently in short supply.  Once she wound up with a bullet in her leg after playing pool and winning money off someone who didn't take kindly to her beating him.  

"She lived nine lives," pointed out Cherise Shane, a longtime family friend.  

In addition to Frisby, she is survived by sons  Terek Poindexter and Malcolm Poindexter; daughters, Larneice Poindexter, Joycelyn Poindexter and Vashti Mallard; 10 grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; four siblings; and many other relatives and friends. 

A viewing will be at 9 a.m. Thursday at New Hope Temple Baptist Church, 312 Manheim St.,  followed by a funeral at 10. Weather forecasters  are calling for snow. In a weird way, that's a good thing. Otherwise, it would be standing room only in there.