Joan Blackwell, 1929-2005
Four of the five Eilerman girls of Lima, Ohio, wanted to go into the convent, but Joan, the oldest, was so ambitious that she entered before her senior year of high school. Her first assignment was as a first-grade teacher in Cincinnati, "where she fell in love with the little children," said her sister Gerry Frueh of Lima. After a few years she was promoted to principal.
In 1965 she was assigned to Rome, where she taught French and English to Italian boys. Five years later, she left the convent and Rome, where she had met writer Donald Blackwell. They married in 1973 and moved to New Orleans, where she became a real estate agent.
"She was a very tenacious individual with a great personality for interacting with people," said Carolyn Bell, former manager of Prudential Gardner in eastern New Orleans. "Over the years she amassed a small fortune in real estate due to her tenaciousness."
"Joan was a beautiful person, graceful, kind, considerate, loyal, understanding, and had time for people," agent Jackie Blossom said. "She never had a negative attitude."
As she won sales awards and was named Prudential's Realtor of the Year in 2000, she bought a 4,500-square-foot house on a man-made lake in Lake Forest Estates in eastern New Orleans.
"Her bathroom even looks out over the lake," said co-worker Paula Jennings. "You can see the ducks walking by. When I saw it, I told her, 'I'd never go to work in the morning!'"
As she reached her 70s, Joan started slowing down. But she still loved her shopping trips to New York and the Galleria in Houston. "She looked great for her age," Jennings said. "I'd see her doing her fast-paced walking in the morning."
Joan and Don went to New York every year to attend Broadway shows and "eat at nice places," said her sister Pat Snider of Columbus, Ohio. "Every three years they'd go to Europe. Don's preference was Rome. Joan loved Nice, France. She enjoyed the uniqueness and the art."
When Hurricane Katrina approached New Orleans, Joan's sisters in Ohio pleaded with her to leave. "Her husband said, 'We have gone through a lot of hurricanes, and this house is sound. We'll be safe here,'" Gerry said.
They were the only ones on their block to stay. "I think it (the water) probably was 7 feet or more," said agent Marie Merrick. "We tried to figure out what happened, Joan going up in the attic, how the water came up, if it came up fast, how did she take that."
Joan died Aug. 31, the day after the floodwater rose. "It was probably about 105 degrees in the attic," her sister Gerry said. "The man at St. Gabriel (morgue) said it appears that she died of hyperthermia. It got too hot; she was exhausted by it."
Don stayed in the house another three or four days, until he saw a neighbor's son going by in a paddleboat, Gerry said. "Don came to the front door and said, 'Get me some help. My wife is in here and she's dead. Please get the Coast Guard to come get her.'"
Workers lifted Joan's body out of the attic on Sept. 17.
Published in The Times-Picayune.