When Marjorie Joseph migrated from Montserrat to the United States in 1998, her children – who were already living in America – knew she had to make some lifestyle adjustments. One of their primary goals was to discourage her from obtaining a driver’s license. It wasn’t because they felt she was incapable of operating a vehicle. It was due to her penchant for giving rides to strangers.
“Picking up strangers in the United States is not the same as picking up strangers in Montserrat,” they stressed to her.
Nurse Joseph did not attempt to get a license and she never drove while in the U.S., so her children won that battle. Well, sort of.
“We would be driving and Mom would say, ‘Ask that person if they need a ride,’ ” Shaun Joseph says. “I remember in Montserrat our car would be full and she would still stop and pick up people . . . and they would end up sitting on our lap.”
That spirit of altruism was a tenet for Marjorie Joseph until she was called home to the Lord on Wednesday, June 1, 2022. Joseph, who died of natural causes, lived her final years in California.
A memorial service was held Saturday, July 9, 2022 at the Azure Hills Seventh Day Adventist Church, Nurse Joseph’s place of worship. During the hour-and-a-half service, church members spoke of her with a profound reverence despite her fairly brief association with the church. They shared stories about her outreach, generosity and sense of humor.
Marjorie Joseph was known mainly as a nurse, but she played many other roles during her 92 years: She was a mother, philanthropist, dramatist, author, church organist and event organizer. She was a sister and church sister, a wife and midwife. She was a staunch Adventist who was principled but never pompous. She practiced what she preached . . . and preached what she practiced. She had a sweet disposition and she handed out sweets, literally, often placing candies in the pockets of unsuspecting recipients, no occasion required.
In early 1988, Nurse Joseph received an MBE award (Member of the Order of the British Empire) and earned a spot on Queen Elizabeth’s prestigious New Year’s Honors list. She was voted Mother of the Year in 2004 by the Montserrat Progressive Society of New York. In 2007, she published a biography titled God Has Brought Me This Far that chronicled her journey of faith, family and fellowship.
Dozens of tributes poured in after her passing. On the Azure Hills church website, family members, friends, parishioners, fellow nurses, former patients and others shared stories about Nurse Joseph and how they were touched by her kindness.
It was the culmination of a life-long crusade of caring and compassion.
FAITH AND FAMILY
Marjorie Joseph, also known as Nurse Joseph and Aunt Sis, was born on October 5, 1929. She was the second of eight children born to William and Rosanna Bramble of Delvins Village, just west of Cork Hill in central Montserrat. Marjorie’s siblings were Thomas, Cerise, Mary, Arthur, Melvin, Donald, Eunice and Josephine. Their father worked at the Depot near Water Lane in Plymouth. Cottonseed oil – referred colloquially as “sweet oil” – was produced there.
Marjorie’s parents were also devout Adventists. At that time, the closest Adventist Church was in Jubilee Town, almost three miles south of Delvins. Mr. Bramble – better known as “Willie Bootie” – would often ride a bicycle to evening service.
After completing school, Marjorie joined the nurse’s training program at Glendon Hospital. Mary Cooper, who would become a close friend and colleague for more than 70 years, explained the process of becoming a district nurse.
“You had to sit an entrance exam,” said Cooper, who became a nurse in 1950 – about three years after Joseph. “You were trained on the job. You also had to train to be a midwife. In those days most babies were delivered in the districts. Only people with [severe complications] were sent to the hospital.”
In the early 1950s, Marjorie married Alfred “Brother Joe” Joseph of Gages. The couple would have three daughters – Rosanna, Theresa and Judith – and also legally adopt Marjorie’s nephews Arthur and Shaun.
The 1950s saw thousands of Montserratians migrate to England amid the Windrush era, and the Josephs were among them. However, their stay in the UK would prove short. Longing for the simplicity of island life, they returned by boat to Montserrat in 1962 and lived in Molyneaux Village. Later on, they built a house in Dyers.
A NURSE’S LIFE
During the early years of Marjorie Joseph’s career, nurses were a vital part of the community. Their presence and pristine white uniforms garnered respect. They attended to an array of health issues and were always on call, visiting homes, delivering babies and even patiently washing the feet of patients with reeking sores.
“I remember my mom having to stitch up someone who had just been injured by a cutlass during a fight,” Judith says. “And she would just calmly do the sutures like a surgeon.”
Nurse Joseph also made a tremendous impact by improving standards in nutrition and sanitation in Montserrat. She frequently appeared on Radio Montserrat and promoted healthy practices that helped garner the aforementioned award from the Queen.
Over time, the dynamics of nursing in Montserrat evolved, bringing an end to the era of the traditional district nurse. What made Nurse Joseph stand out during her time was how she meshed her personality and religion into her work.
“She loved people, and she would always make them feel comfortable with her jokes,” said Cooper, who participated with Joseph in the annual Nurses Concerts that became legendary. Nurse Joseph amused audiences with her stage antics and self-deprecating humor.
“She would do things like remove her dentures,” Cooper says. “One time we did a skit where she hid a Johnny cake under her wig, and in the skit I accidentally remove the wig and the Johnny cake falls out.”
Rosamund Meade, a veteran school teacher who grew up in Delvins, recalls Joseph’s hilarious skits.
“If you were half-dead she would make you laugh and bring you back to life,” Meade says. “If she wasn’t part of the show you’d probably want your money back.”
The Nurses Concerts were held in conjunction with Nurses Week, which was part fund-raiser but mostly geared toward community fellowship. Joseph and Cooper also hosted the Golden Years Program on Radio Montserrat for several years before Joseph migrated.
Arthur Bramble, Nurse Joseph’s adopted son, recalled one instance that demonstrated the respect the venerable nurse commanded.
“I used to do construction work, and some of the guys would give me a hard time,” he says. “I told her about it. She showed up at my job the next day to bring me lunch, and all of the guys were like, ‘Nurse Joseph, that’s your son?’ She said, ‘Yes he is.’ They never bothered me again.”
Basil Chambers, the popular morning host on Radio Montserrat, grew up in Lees Village near Nurse Joseph’s home. They attended the same Adventist church in Dyers. In a tribute following her passing, he referred to her as “Montserrat’s Mother Teresa.”
“Nurse Joseph was my other grandmother,” Chambers says. “I knew her since I was 3 years old. She involved me in everything from Pathfinders to her choral group to her many short skits and concerts. I was one of the stars doing the very popular, I Just Got to Heaven and I Can’t Sit Down. My humanitarian ways and kindness comes directly from her lessons and training.”
Nurse Joseph was extremely generous to her community but never forgot the credo, “Charity begins at home.” She and “Brother Joe” wanted to assure that their children got the best education.
Joining their elder sister Rosanna in careers in healthcare, Judith and Theresa graduated from Loma Linda University, considered in Adventist circles as their flagship for healthcare education.
“My mom worked tirelessly to pay for those tuitions,” Judith says. “My parents made a lot of sacrifices for us. It was easy for us to get decent grades because we didn’t want to disappoint them.”
In the late 1990s, Nurse Joseph’s husband “Brother Joe” became ill. The family decided it was best that he and Nurse Joseph move to America so he could receive advanced care. “Brother Joe” passed away in 2000.
Nurse Joseph joined the Azure Hills church in the early 2000s. The church has a diverse membership, including Hispanics, Filipinos, African-Americans and Caucasians. Nurse Joseph fit in with ease and became as beloved there as she was in Montserrat, proving that humanity trumps ethnicity.
At the Azure Hills church she served as a counselor for the Pathfinders, a traditional Adventist program designed to mentor young church members. They went on hikes and other retreats, and Nurse Joseph accompanied them even at an advanced age. As a Masters Guide for the Pathfinders in Montserrat, she was known to sit in a chair between the boys’ and girls’ living quarters during retreats to assure there would be no “hanky panky” on her watch.
During her time as a member of the Azure Hills church, Nurse Joseph suffered a fall that became further debilitating over time. Despite her limited mobility, she continued to be active in the church, even playing her ukulele during Thanksgiving functions.
LIVING AND GIVING
Nurse Joseph’s son Shaun was asked how much of his mother’s kindness was motivated by her deep faith and how much was simply her personality.
“I would say it was 30 percent religion, 70 percent her,” he said. “She was always sharing. If it was the last piece of bread she had, she would share it.”
Of the countless tributes that were submitted, one was particularly poignant. It came from Adina Lee of Montserrat, who wrote in part:
“I am alive because of Nurse Joseph. My Mom says she went into labor at home and had to send Dad to get Nurse. She was already dressed for church but took the time to come and deliver me. I was breech with my umbilical cord around my neck and not breathing. Nurse breathed into my mouth, and I began to breathe and what babies do at birth: cry. Thank you so much Nurse Joseph. It was your breath that has me alive today. I will always cherish this knowledge of my birth. Enjoy your time in heaven.”
The woman who gave that baby her first breath has now taken her last.
But her legacy is alive and kicking.