Joy Bricker lived for 10 years in a hotel in Falls Church and on the day last October when she finally moved out — to live with her daughter on a farm in upstate New York — she became a star. Joy was on CNN. She was in the Huffington Post. She was in my column.
Ten years living in a hotel. Fancy that!
Last week, Joy’s daughter, Christy Winton, called to tell me that her mom passed away on Sept. 13 at age 80. And then Christy told me something I didn’t know: Joy had moved back to that hotel, to the TownePlace Suites by Marriott on Hillwood Avenue.
“She absolutely couldn’t stand it up here,” Christy told me. “She was miserable. She said, ‘You can take your country life. I’m a city girl.’ ”
Joy stuck it out for five months in Christy’s rented farmhouse, where the residents included two parakeets, a dog, a miniature horse and a quarter horse — but not a lot of people.
“I can sit here for a month and never say hello to another human being,” said Christy, 57.
That was not Joy’s way. In May, she returned to the hotel — to Room 111 (her old room, 202, was occupied) — and restarted her old life, walking to the Episcopal church not far away, seeing movies with her friend Barbara Hayward, whom she’d met in 1986 when Joy joined the staff of the White House Conference for a Drug Free America.
“She reminded me of the Energizer Bunny,” Barbara said. “You’d think she was winding down, and the next thing you’d know she’d be up again.”
During her time in Washington, Joy worked for Elizabeth Dole at the Department of Transportation. She worked at Housing and Urban Development. She was a licensed pilot, too.
“She always had to be outside of herself,” Christy said. “She constantly had to be doing something for somebody who needed something.”
And as odd as it might have seemed to live in a hotel — even a suites hotel — it made sense to Joy. There weren’t separate bills for electricity, for gas, for water. “I wrote that one check, and I knew I was good for that month,” Joy told me last year. Plus, there was a complimentary continental breakfast.
I think Joy might have especially liked the neatness and order of a hotel. For the last decade or so, her life was perhaps not as neat as she would have hoped. Her husband, Glenn Bricker, died in 2000. They were living in New Hampshire at the time, where he was a physician, and his death motivated her to return to the Washington area after some time away.
In 2004, Joy’s son, Charles, died suddenly. He was 48. Almost a year to the day after that, Charles’s son, Christopher, was severely and permanently injured in a motorcycle accident.
“I really don’t think that she was the same after that,” Christy said of her mom. “As far as on the outside, she was fine. In front of people she was fine. But I think deep down inside, she was really sad.”
Perhaps the regular, predictable cadences of a hotel seemed like a soothing balm, the muted colors, the familiar rhythms.
“That TownePlace Suites was the most comfortable place in the world for her,” Christy said. “It fit her like a glove.”
Joy stayed there a month and a half before declining health prompted a move into an Arlington assisted-living facility. A loyal Republican, she couldn’t wait until the election. Christy figures that’s what was keeping her alive as she battled aortic stenosis.
Christy said she wanted to stop her mother from moving back to the hotel but she saw how much it meant to her.
“You do what you do to make your family happy, especially when you know they’re at the end,” Christy said. “She was in her glory. She was happy to be back in Virginia with her friends.”
Joy was happy to be back in the hotel, checking in one last time before she checked out.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.