When Joyce Franz was three months old, her head lolled to one side. By the time she was six months old, her development was stunted on one side. In 1962 at 15 months, the cheery, sunny baby was doomed by doctors who proclaimed to her parents: this child will never walk or talk.
Well, spend an hour with Joyce Franz Walker today and you’ll see she does both… very well.
Joyce was born, as it turns out, with cerebral palsy. Her right arm and hand twist in on themselves. Her right leg drags a bit behind her. However, Joyce had to point out both of these ‘defects’ to me… all I saw was a huge smile behind bright eyes and an eager, friendly face.
Joyce did not live the legacy carved out for her. Looking back, she figures it’s because she had three older siblings who knew nothing about her limitations. In fact, they didn’t see them at all. They took her bowling. They bought her skates. They’d say “C’mon, let’s go play ball.” And Joyce would go. Her brother and sisters just didn’t hear the doctors’ message.
As a child, Joyce spent a lot of time in a wheelchair, and she wore a hockey helmet to protect her rolling head. She had leg braces, and her wheelchair. Her mother took her from the family’s home in Mimico to Sick Kids Hospital three times a week. She attended the Crippled Children’s Place, now called the Hugh McMillan Centre. And every night Joyce and her mother would do therapy.
Later on she was moved from a high school to a vocational school so she could ‘catch up.’ Looking back she said that attending a vocational school, Kingsmill C.V.I., was a huge boost to her self esteem. She excelled there and went back to her original school to finish grade 12.
And then work called. Work in a bank. She was interviewed and hired as a teller at a Toronto trust company. This was in 1981. And when Joyce innocently mentioned to her boss that she had cerebral palsy, she was let go immediately. It was a hurtful experience, and her first real-life run-up against discrimination. She didn’t take it lightly and a Toronto Sun story tells the entire tale. She went back to the trust company.
When Joyce and Richard Walker married, they moved to Essa Township to buy a house and start a family. Still Joyce continued to work part time in ‘the bank’ using the skills that had served her and her customers so well. But lugging around coin took its toll and she was sidelined with bursitis in her only working arm. She felt paralyzed!
Joyce is a survivor. Joyce also sees a disability as nothing but a challenge, an opportunity to overcome something. And while she had few close friends growing up, she has sturdy friendships today, friends who value her not for what she isn’t but for what she is!
“Disability creates such a barrier,” Joyce reflects. “It’s a barrier to getting jobs, but nobody comes right out and tells you that.” She even applied for a job with a health care facility and was turned down because her 24 words a minute at the keyboard didn’t measure up to the 35 words required, even though she was doing that with one hand. “They weren’t interested in any of the assistive devices available to let me do the job, either,” she said. “And this was a health care agency!”
But Joyce has faced the “you can’ts” all her life. “You can’t have kids. You can’t cook. You can’t, you can’t, you can’t.”
Joyce and Richard have three children, now grown. And as they head out the door to their adult lives, Joyce is realizing that she will have difficulting in one area of cooking… getting a cake out of the oven with one hand.
After years of banking experience where some managers valued her and some did not, Joyce moved on. She joined Derek Battaglia and The Mortgage Centre and she is one dynamo of a mortgage broker. How’d she get the job? “I just drove past the Angus office one day and stopped in. Two weeks later I had a job.”
“My boss is aware of my disability, but he doesn’t see it as an obstacle,” she says.
Today, as a mortgage broker, Joyce loves her work. She gets to look for the best rates for all kinds of people. She makes a difference in their lives. They come for second mortgages and I work tirelessly to get people what they need. In fact,l 75% of her business is by referral.
“I like seeing the smiles when people get what they want. They appreciate you.”
That’s only part of Joyce’s life. She has been a very active hockey parent, team mom, manager, tournament director, registration coordinator… everything but coach, she says. She was the fundraiser for a co-op nursery school. She’s served in leadership positions with her church. She’s chaired the Easter Seals campaign. She is an active member of BNI (Business Network International). She also headed up fundraising and construction of the Angus Skateboard Park. She’s an active Rotarian in Alliston.
In 2003 she ran for mayor of Essa Township, pitting herself against incumbent David Guergis. She did well. She learned that to be in politics demands a really thick skin. She doesn’t have a thick skin. She has a big heart. She lives with her health challenges by making the choice to be as vibrant as ever.
“I’ve told my kids that if something sidelines you and you can have exactly what you want, you can always have something that you like. It’s good solid advice.”
Sure is. Thanks, Joyce.