OBITUARY

Joyce Rayburn Smith

January 24, 1921November 10, 2020

Pioneering OKC Businesswoman Finishes Well at 99

Joyce Irene Rayburn was born in OKC into a life of privilege on January 24, 1921. Her father, William Benjamin Rayburn, was a prominent entrepreneur who taught her the value of hard work and perseverance through adversity. Her mother, Cora Lee Wynne, was a lifelong educator and strong woman of faith, who shared with Joyce her great gentility and deep-rooted love of Jesus. Joyce was an incomparable combination of these two – her father’s persistence, love of fun, grit, and unyielding determination, and her mother’s tenderness, kindheartedness, and faithfulness.

Facing her first great battle at 3 years old, Joyce, like many children of the dust-bowl era, faced respiratory complications from the amount of dust in the air. The doctors were not hopeful and told her parents to prepare to lose their child; but, a well-educated, clever mother, and a resolutely-determined father who slept upright with her in a rocking chair every night for over a year so that she would not aspirate, led her to the first of many of life’s victories over adversity. Joyce recalled: “I overheard my father talking to a neighbor, saying that I wasn’t strong and that they were afraid that I was going to die - So I prayed to God, as my mother had taught me, to give me strength so that I could live.” And live, she did…

Oklahoma was hit hard by the stock market crash of 1929. By 1931, Joyce’s childhood of luxury ended as her father lost all of his eight businesses and their family home. Her family was forced to give up almost all of their possessions and moved into a two-room shot-gun house in the oil patch, but the brave little girl, who never gave up, was not about to be outdone. She went door-to-door looking for work that she could do. She asked neighbors, local merchants, and farmers. She worked hard at only 10 years old, and through her own initiative was able to earn up to 25 cents a day doing odd jobs around the community.

By 1939, the stalwart little girl has blossomed into an incredibly beautiful young lady. The years of hardship and manual labor had not tarnished her; instead, God had rewarded her with innocence, a magnetic personality, strength of character, and exceptional beauty. Her charms were so extraordinary, that the then OKC Chief of Police, Smokey Hilbert, after meeting her at a family dinner, asked her to be exceptionally brave once again and serve her community in an extraordinary way. The Police had suspicions that a human trafficking ring was targeting young ladies in OKC with the promise of out-of-state jobs. The Police needed someone to use as bait, someone who was young and beautiful and poised, but possessed of an incredible inner strength; someone they felt the traffickers would be unable to resist. Joyce immediately agreed and went to work helping the Police. Through Joyce’s efforts, the Police were able to break up a multi-national human trafficking ring, and Joyce helped to save hundreds of young women from the horrors and the tragedy of human trafficking. She was awarded special commendation from the OKC Police for extraordinary service to her community.

Through the challenges, Joyce always worked hard, but she also played hard. She loved to dance and had a penchant for Big Band music. At one such dance, she caught the eye of college football star Averel Wells. With his coal-black hair and his light-blue eyes that Joyce always described as being “the color of the sky”, they had a whirlwind romance and were married in 1940. Complications from a sports injury led to his untimely passing in 1943, as the life-saving new wonder drug, penicillin, arrived at the hospital only hours after his death. Joyce was now a widow at 21 years old.

At the beginning of WWII, Joyce went to work at Tinker field to support her country. She worked all day setting jewels in aircraft instruments, and danced with the GI’s all night at the American Legion. Knowing the pangs of loss firsthand, she saw the humanity behind the uniform, and wanted each serviceman to know that he was valued and appreciated. Joyce’s eye for precision in her work with aircraft instrumentation was so lauded that as the war continued, she was invited to work on the cutting-edge Manhattan Project in New Mexico. Not wanting to leave her family in OKC, she asked if there was a different option, and she became part of the team working on the top-secret Norden Bombsight, high-tech mechanical instrumentation which made precise daylight bombing of a target possible, and helped to turn the tide of the war for the Allies. Joyce scrimped and saved, and in 1948, she had amassed enough money to buy her family home at 3504 Shields Blvd in Capitol Hill - A home that would become synonymous with generosity, kindness, strength, and of course her exceptional home cooking. She wanted a place for her family, and a return to those lost days of her childhood.

The 1950’s brought great prosperity as Joyce returned to the regular work force. As a single woman, job opportunities were not plentiful in this era; however, she was not about to give up. She took a job as a waitress in the coffee shop at the famed Biltmore Hotel, and soon worked her way to being the favored waitperson of the millionaires who frequented the Biltmore’s plush dinning room. Her parents were aging by this time, so she was working to support not only herself, but also to help in their care and support. Working split shifts, the grace, charm and elegance that she had been taught as a child and cultivated into adulthood served her well. Cocktail dresses and dancing the night away to her big band favorites were a treasured weekend pastime. One such evening, at the Trianon Ballroom, she met the dashing Lee Smith. She and Lee were married in 1950, and their son, Terry Lee was born the following year. Joyce loved being a mother. Her nurturing tenderness combined with her love of family and strength of purpose made her an ideal mother. She and Lee had a love of fun – fast cars, beautiful places and things, and they took little Terry Lee with them wherever they went. Lee had a family history of cardiovascular disease, and their life of beauty came to a screeching halt when he suffered a massive stroke. Joyce was made a widow for the second time in the Fall of 1958.

Joyce was determined to be both mother and father to Terry Lee, and dedicated her life to working to help support them. One evening while serving dinner in the dining room at the Biltmore, Joyce met Colonel Nelson and his wife Fern. Mr. Nelson owned The Key Magazine and The Century Printing Company, and he thought Joyce would make an excellent saleslady for printing and advertising. Never shying away from a challenge, Joyce agreed and began her 20+ year tenure in the advertising industry. Joyce progressed quickly and within 5 years, she was one of Oklahoma’s only female advertising executives. She won the acclaimed Addy award for achievement in advertising 5 times in an 8-year period, causing a local advertising mogul to quip: “heck, if she wins it one more time, we’ll have to start calling it ‘The Joyce’”! The years from 1958 to 1978 were years of exceptional prosperity and enjoyment for Joyce. In 1961, she even had 8 men propose marriage to her in one year! She laughingly remarked: “All you have to do is decide that you don’t want to get married anymore, and then all of the sudden every handsome, successful man you meet wants to marry you!” She continued her involvement in community and social organizations, including serving as secretary, vice president, and president of the OKC Toastmistress Public Speaking Organization, president of the OKC Real Estate Investors Club, and when her peer and friend, Patience Latting, became the first female mayor of OKC, Ms. Latting asked Joyce to join her advisory board. Joyce and other prominent businesswomen of the time met with Ms. Latting in their homes to discuss the events of the day, sometimes around the kitchen table, prompting the all-female advisory group to be dubbed “the kitchen cabinet”.

In 1978 at the peak of her success in advertising, Joyce’s beloved eldest brother Ernie passed away. He was a fashion designer and design house representative based out of Los Angeles. His death came during one of the busiest times in the fashion year, during the Dallas Market, where he owned the illustrious Rayburn Showroom. Determined to service all of the orders which had already been placed, Joyce took a hiatus from advertising and temporarily relocated to Dallas, TX to continue running Ernie’s fashion business and settle his affairs. While she was there, her salesmanship, style, and flair for fashion caught the eye of a number of notable designers, and she was asked to stay and begin her own line. Joyce kept the road hot between OKC and Dallas for 5 years from 1980 – 1985 during which time, she designed elegant lingerie, robes, loungewear, and jewelry for the lady with discerning taste. Her line, “Designs by Joy”, was marketed internationally by Intime’ of California and Riviera Fashions, and appeared in such department stores as Nieman Marcus, Dillard’s, Foley’s and other specialty boutiques.

By 1986, Joyce was 65 years old. While most people would be ready to retire and settle down, she reinvented herself yet again, and began a new life chapter. She needed a business that was closer to home; so, she closed the door on the fashion industry and came home looking for the perfect new business opportunity. Her son, Terry Lee, now grown with 2 sons of his own, had just purchased a franchised family bookstore. Joyce, who had always had a love of learning that she inherited from her mother and an indelible curiosity which she inherited from her father, thought this would be the perfect business. Joyce did everything big, so when her first bookstore on Country Club Drive in Nichols Hills became a success in 1987, she opened an even bigger store in 1989, and in 1992 started Books by Mail, sharing her love of reading with small libraries throughout the United States. In 1993, at over 70 years old, she decided to design and build her own home. When asked about her experience as a home builder, she remarked: “I’m an idea girl. I’ve designed advertising, clothing and fine jewelry – how different can a house be?” She would go on to design an exceptional home, with her own thoughtful touches throughout. In 2000, Joyce sold her retail bookstore and continued to run Books by Mail until her retirement in 2005. During her retirement, she continued to enjoy ballroom dancing, big band music, and regular involvement in her church, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, where she was a 60+ year member. In 2010, Joyce moved in to Rambling Oaks Court Retirement Community, where she lived until her passing on Tuesday, November 10, 2020, with her family at her bedside. Joyce was a strong Christian, and was well known for her evangelistic nature, deeply rooted in the principles of faith which guided her throughout her lifetime. When asked about heaven, she replied: “Honey, it’s gonna’ be one whey of a party when I get there!”

Joyce Rayburn Smith, the outspoken “Auntie-Mame-esque” character who loved deeply, worked diligently, fought passionately and overcame voraciously leaves behind a legacy of mentorship, compassion, and encouragement. The original fashionista, she was known for her red lipstick, Italian shoes, and fashion-forward everything. After she could no longer wear high-heeled shoes, she donated her collection of over 200 pairs of unique and exceptional shoes to be sold at auction for charity. When asked how she felt, she said: “Life has taught me that to get through, you’ve gotta’ be tough. We lost everything in The Depression and I didn’t cry, I buried two husbands and I managed not to cry, I lost by parents and I didn’t cry, but damn it – the day I had to give up Prada for Dr. Scholl’s, I cried!” Her life reads as a riches-to-rags-to-riches story that inspires each of us to live each day to the fullest, constantly strive to be our best self, and let God be the guiding center in our lives.

The Smith family would like to thank the staff of Rambling Oaks Court Retirement Community and the staff of Frontier Hospice for their support and compassionate care during Joyce’s final days. A graveside service honoring Joyce’s life will be held at Sunny Lane Cemetery, Monday, November 16 at 11 AM. All are invited.

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Joyce Rayburn Smith

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FROM THE FAMILY
FROM THE FAMILY

Joyce and sailor c1946

FROM THE FAMILY

Joyce WAC at Capitol Bldg c1942

FROM THE FAMILY

Joyce and Terry, March 1968

FROM THE FAMILY

Joyce as bathing beauty c1945

FROM THE FAMILY

Joyce c1938

FROM THE FAMILY

Joyce Rayburn Smith - c1967

FROM THE FAMILY

Joyce and Averel c1940

FROM THE FAMILY

Joyce and Averel c1941

FROM THE FAMILY

Joyce as a baby. Held by Ernie's girlfriend Irene c1924

FROM THE FAMILY
FROM THE FAMILY

Joyce and sailor c1946

FROM THE FAMILY

Joyce WAC at Capitol Bldg c1942

FROM THE FAMILY

Joyce and Terry, March 1968

FROM THE FAMILY

Joyce as bathing beauty c1945

FROM THE FAMILY

Joyce c1938

FROM THE FAMILY

Joyce Rayburn Smith - c1967

FROM THE FAMILY

Joyce and Averel c1940

FROM THE FAMILY

Joyce and Averel c1941

FROM THE FAMILY

Joyce as a baby. Held by Ernie's girlfriend Irene c1924

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