Greek-American Historical Museum of Washington State

Drawn to Medicine
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Drawn to Medicine

Joy Goodwin

1 Joy and a skullWhat did doctors do before graphic technology was available?  In Washington State they turned to Joy (Zoe) Goodwin (nee Polis) to provide incredible likenesses of the human body for use in teaching and sharing anatomical knowledge.

Joy’s father, Demenagos (James) Iatropoulos (Polis) came from the island of Paros in the Kiklades (Cyclades) island group in the Aegean Sea.  Paros is said to have the best marble in the world and some say that 2 Demenagos and Catherine Polis, circa 1930Michelangeloobtained his marble from there.  One doctor with whom Joy worked theorized that her artistic abilities were genetically connected to the old master.  When Joy attempted unsuccessfully to find her father’s records from Ellis Island, she did find one very long name and believes it could have been him.  James had married Catherine Pallis from Lavrio south of Athens on the Attica Peninsula and came to America a few years before her.  Catherine travelled with her two children, four-year-old John and two-year-old Anna, on a boat with only ropes as railings.  During a heavy storm John broke loose from his mother’s arms and only the ropes kept him from going overboard.  Catherine’s father had come to Seattle previously and he and her brother Chris were there when the Polis family arrived.  James worked for a while in Snohomish in the lumber mills.  There were nine children in all.  After John (1905) and Anna (1907) came Mary, Nina, Jim, Pete, twins Helen and Cula and finally Joy (Zoe) on March 1, 1923.  Joy is the only surviving sibling.

When Joy was born, the family lived in Hobart, Washington, a rural area east of Seattle.  She learned little about her parents’ ages or dates of birth as they spoke of namedays (the date honoring the saint after whom one received their baptismal name) rather than birthdays.  While they thought the United States was a rich country that was not their experience in Washington.  While caring for her sick and aged mother, Joy found that “if you can get them to talk, they will forget the pain.”  It was then that she discovered that Catherine was given to her godmother as the family couldn’t afford to keep her.  Little girls were in demand at the time to be raised and used as maids for the family members.

In Hobart the family was very poor.  James was primarily a farmer with a large garden to feed a large family.  There were kittens, puppies and goats.  Joy was given a calf as a birthday present by her godfather Bakamis who knew that the family needed it.  Joy remembers her mother baking bread; when 3 With cousins, circa 1927electricity came to the home and being baffled when a waffle iron was given to the family as a gift.  There were no Greek families in the Hobart area and travel to visit relatives or to attend church was very difficult.  The Polis family kept in close contact with the Pallis relatives and visited Joy’s godparents every summer in Renton, south of Seattle.  Joy recalls a long bus ride for a toothache, refusing to open her mouth and enduring a long trip back home.

Joy was six years old during the height of the Depression when the farm was sold and the family moved to White Center just outside of Seattle.  This was a very difficult time.  Fortunately older sister Anna had married George Pappadis who helped the family buy a home in the Holly Park area of south Seattle.  Here there was a large garden with fruit trees, hazelnuts and blackberries and conditions were much better for the Polis family.  They were closer to the Pallis relatives and had easier bus access to their church in Seattle where Catherine did the cleaning with Joy as her helper.

Joy spoke only Greek at home.  As her twin sisters Helen and Cula were ahead of her in school, she was able to learn some English from them.  She finished the first grade in Hobart with four classes in one room.  She attended Brighton Elementary in south Seattle, then Franklin High School.  Joy loved school and even enjoyed Greek school with Father Phoutrides at the Assumption parish.  She recalls her mother making prosforo (communion bread) for 25 cents and exchanging prosforo for a Greek lesson.  The Greek she learned at home, and in school gave her a distinct advantage in her medical illustration work.  Joy graduated from high school in Longview, Washington, where she lived with her sister, Anna Pappadis.  She enjoyed the smaller community and made many friends there.

4 Marine Corps, 1943                           5 Joy with brothers Jim and John circa 1943

Joy’s mother died the summer after her her high school graduation and she was very confused as to what would come next in her life.  On her 20th birthday, she joined the United States Marine Corps and says it was the best thing she could have done at the time.  She was stationed in Washington, D.C., and worked in the military post office there.  Two-and-a–half years later she was back in Seattle working at the Federal Reserve Bank and knew that her future was not in banking.  That’s when she decided to attend the University of Washington.  Her mother had always said, “Take typing.” but Joy’s interests lay elsewhere.  With no place to live she was welcomed into the seven-member home of Peter and Effie Wells, good friends of her sister Anna.  “Being welcomed into this house was a life saver for me.  More generous people I have never known.  I give a lot of credit to this expieriece for any success I may have had.”

At the University she took mostly art classes with a few other courses 6 Longview Daily News, circa 1946as well.  In one of her art classes she gained confidence when she saw other students’ drawings and knew hers were much better.  While discussing her future at a routine physical examination the doctor asked her what two things she liked the most.  Her answer was medicine and art, but she did not want to become a doctor.  The doctor took a book containing a few medical illustrations off his shelf, showed it to Joy, and that was the beginning of her career as a medical illustrator.  She attended a class that met in the University of Washington Medical School for no credit.  The professor would show slides or body dissections and Joy would prepare a drawing when something unusual was discovered.  She had her own cadaver to work on which gave her a great advantage in the study of anatomy before attending school for medical illustration.  Soon she learned there were only four schools in the country that taught medical illustration.  She was one of two students accepted at what she believes was the best choice, the University of California Medical School in San Francisco.  Her courses lasted eight hours each day and it was like squeezing three years of work into two.

7 Newspaper article, May, 1951        9 Joy in front of  drawings, circa 190s

While she was in San Francisco her professor learned of a Tacoma, Washington, doctor who needed illustrations for a book.  Joy responded to the doctor’s request and spent nine months in Tacoma drawing the illustrations for the book.  Then she had to find a job.  She learned that the Mason Clinic (part of what is now the Virginia Mason Hospital) needed someone with her skills.  She spent the next 16 years working there in her chosen field.  During that time she was able to buy a car and a home with her own garden, a real satisfaction considering her spartan upbringing.  Buying a house was not something “maiden ladies” did.  The only drawback to sitting in her studio all day was the lack of exercise.  Working in the yard and keeping up a home were necessary for her to keep active on her off time.

8 Archives of Surgery, 1956             drawings

Joy loved her independence and solitude despite pressure from several Greeks to get married.  One day Sam Doces, koumbaro (best man) to her cousin George Pallis, called and asked her out to lunch to meet a friend.  She decided it was time to leave her garden, get “gussied up” and accept the invitation.  Doces said the friend, Russ Goodwin, owned a nice boat and a Lincoln Continental.  However, Joy did not envision sleeping with either the boat or the car and asked Sam, “Is he a nice man?”  As it turned out her first date with Russ lasted until two in the morning.  They met again two days later and couldn’t stay away from each other.  They met in April, became engaged in August and were married in December of 1966.  Russ was a widower and a successful insurance broker with two grown children and grandchildren.  During their 16 years together, Joy became a devoted boater and fisherman.  This was a complete change in her life.  It was a new, different and very happy time.

15 Joy and Russ in Hawaii, 1966                16 Joy and Russ on the boat, 1969

The couple lived in Edmonds, Washington, and Joy asked Russ if he wanted her to continue working.  He said, “I want you to do what makes you happy.”  Considering the daily commute to Seattle and time away from their relationship, Joy ended her employment with the Mason Clinic.  She proudly recalls a convention of medical illustrators where her San Francisco professor told her how14 Head of Christ proud he was of her.   And, when visiting her former employer she was told how long it took her replacement to do the drawings Joy did in much less time.  She did work for a short time in the early 1970s illustrating a book entitled Ladies Home Journal Family Medical Guide authored by Alan E. Nourse, M.D.  He would send her a chapter and she would send him sketches, mostly line drawings, for his approval.  After a month he said, “Don’t send me the sketches.”  The initial drawings she prepared did not need any modification.  Joy also did some private art work, as can be seen in the head of Christ here.  “This painting was done in one day.  One thing I realized is that being an artist was very confining.  To paint I had to isolate myself from everyone.  This has a lot of meaning for me.  From then on a power greater than myself led me to being a wife, mother and grandmother.”

For Joy, “being Greek is everything.  It’s me.”  She often catches herself speaking to herself in Greek.  She relishes the time speaking Greek with a friend and conversing with a niece in Greece.  She does believe that, by holding too close to their ethnic community, Greeks can cut themselves short by not mingling with non-Greeks.

Joy likes to see honesty in people and if that doesn’t exist she doesn’t need their friendship.  Otherwise she accepts people with all their foibles just as she has her own.  When Russ passed away in 1982 a new and different era began.  Just as she chose an independent life style in her earlier years, she continues to enjoy her life and appreciates having time to herself.

By John and Joann Nicon, March 2012

1 Joy and a skull
2 Demenagos and Catherine Polis, circa 1930
3 Joy with her family (l-r) Front row: brother Pete, cousin Mary Pallis, cousin Nick Pallis, cousin Tom Pallis, Joy with doll; Middle row: aunt Stamatina Pallis, uncle Chris Pallis, sister Cula, mother Catherine; Back row: sister Nina, brother John, sister Mary
4 Joy in the Marine Corps, 1943
5 Joy and her brothers, John and Jim, circa 1943
6 Longview Daily News, circa 1946
7 Newspaper article (unknown source), May 1951
8 Joy in front of her drawings, circa 1950s
9 Archives of Surgery Journal, June 1956
10 Skull drawing
11 Guinea pig drawing
12 Heart drawing
13 Eye drawing
14 Joy and Russ in Hawaii, 1966
15 Joy and Russ on the boat, 1969
16 Head of Christ
Photo 1 by John Nicon; all others from Goodwin family collection
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, March 2012