Joy Pennington, JoLe Productions Co-Founder, Takes Final Journey

Written by Lee Pennington on 29 June 2011.

JoLe Productions lost its co-founder, Joy Pennington, who died three months ago following her battle with cancer. She was a guiding force of JoLe Productions, and her imprint was seen on every production. That imprint will continue to be seen on a number of documentaries to come--documentaries Joy worked on in the early planning and filming and editing stages.

According to Joy's wishes, she was cremated and her ashes were spread at sea.

I just returned recently from going to the sea beyond Outer Banks of NC and fulfilling her wishes.

I left Louisville, just driving east, not knowing exactly where I'd end up. I realized it was physically Joy's and my last trip together, and we had taken so many, it was quite strange in many ways--her new form, her speaking only silence. My first stop was Ashville, NC. I checked into the hotel and went to the bar. I sat down beside Arek Kempinski, a young Polish man who worked in the government at Chapel Hill, NC and was in Ashville at a conference. He said to me, "Are you here on pleasure or on business?" After a moment, I said, "Neither. I am on the way to the sea to spread my wife's ashes." We talked a long, long time and had much in common. I was taken by the "coincidence of certain happenings and experiences."

I met at dinner two lovely waitresses, Natalia and Nicole. They asked me what I was doing in Ashville and I told them simply I was on the way to the sea to spread Joy's ashes. We, too, talked of life and the universe. Later, I went to the car and got each a "worry stone." (I think it important we connect to the earth and stones can help us do that). I told one, whose fiancé was in California, that if she were worried about him, she could flip her stone and everything would be OK. The next morning, they wouldn't let me pay for my breakfast, saying they wanted to cover it. We hugged goodbye; Nicole wept openly. I wondered how strangers can have such an intense moment or maybe there is no such thing as strangers or moments.

I left early, around 8 AM, and started traveling east and south toward the coastal town of Wilmington, NC. Along the way, I suddenly changed my mind, and I headed for the Outer Banks, specifically Kitty Hawk, just north of Kill Devil Hills. I checked into the hotel (Hilton Gardens overlooking the Atlantic; Joy and I had stayed here before). At the desk, I asked if they could help me locate a boat and a captain to take me out to sea to spread ashes. About 10 PM, the desk host knocked on my door and told me he had located a captain and boat and I was to meet them at 11 the next day at Wanchese (a small fishing village on Roanoke Island) about 40 minutes to the south. The captain had said he would take me out as far as he could, but it wouldn't be far. The sea was stormy and rough, and small craft warnings were out.

The next morning I arrived at Wanchese and went to the harbor and found the captain, Robert Fitzgerald, and the shipmate, Marcia. We loaded boat then headed out Croatan Sound. It took about an hour to reach the open sea--this beyond the bridge between Bodie and Hatteras Islands. I first gave a tobacco offering. Then, I spread Joy's ashes. The sea, too violent for small craft that day, suddenly calmed. I mean totally calm. Marcia, the shipmate, commented how strange that the sea calmed in that way. I simply stared in wonder as I have so many times in my life. It took us about forty minutes to get back to the dock via the sound, and the water remained calm, the sun shining brightly, all the way back in. It was, as the Buddhist might say, a white cloud experience.

The next day I drove to Atlantic Beach, NC (Joy and I had stayed here many years ago) and got a room overlooking the ocean. I wanted to spend a day or so by the sea. One night, with the doors open, I witnessed the most beautiful storm at sea. The lightning flashed and thunder roared and the black waters opened and closed like giant eyes with each flash. I stood on the balcony for about forty minutes. Almost all her life, Joy was afraid of storms. Now I felt she was intimately a part of this one, and she shared its glory. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.

One other story of the journey. On the way home, after driving all day, I stopped in Wythe, VA to spend the night. I checked in at the Hampton Inn and went out to dinner--so very strange for me to eat alone. I went back to the room and decided to have a glass of wine. Joy and I always carried two wine glasses in the car--just in case the hotel didn't have good glasses. The Hampton only had paper cups. So I went to the car and got the glasses. We kept them in a small make-up kit--each glass surrounded in bubble wrap. I opened the case and took off the wrap from the first glass and found it was broken, but it was broken in a very strange way. The stem was broken from the glass and the base and was in two pieces, but the glass and base were intact, not even a chip or a crack. I wondered how such a thing could happen. I then opened the other glass and it was broken in the identical way, glass and base fine, the stem in two pieces. This breaks all the rules of physics I know. The glasses were facing in opposite directions, so any blow to either stem would have to, one would think, break the other glass. Yet, both glasses and bases were not even cracked.

So I am back in Louisville now--knowing with each new rainfall, part of Joy will be there also.

Lee Pennington