Joan L. Culloo McLaughlin Flatley "Mama Joan"
Middletown - Joan was in charge of her destiny from the moment she was born in Jersey City, NJ on March 19, 1929. At the age of three, she edged her brother out of a movie audition even though the show was looking for a blond-haired boy. "How's your mother?" she quipped at the director, her pint-sized fist balled at her hip. She landed the role.
Attending the Academy of St. Aloysius, a private Catholic all-girls prep school in Jersey City, she was voted "best legs" by her classmates. Run by the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth, Joan learned the enduring virtue of compassion. Early in her adult life, she served on the Jersey City Commission for the Welfare of Developmentally Challenged Children. After her first-born child was born with multiple disabilities, she volunteered for the March of Dimes, United Cerebral Palsy and the Sunshine Foundation.
Joan's love of theater made her a natural at public relations, promoting the fledgling efforts of the performing arts at Newark State College, Brookdale Community College's early productions at the Dam Site Dinner Theater in Tinton Falls, The Barn Theatre in Rumson and at local Summer Theatre in Deal where she raised her family.
A child of the Depression, Joan learned early the value of a dollar. Her financial acumen served her well as Treasurer of the Shore Area YMCA's Swim Team and most notably as The Executive Director of the Greater Asbury Park Area Chamber of Commerce. During her 12 year tenure in this position (1987-1999) Joan helped the City come back to life during the City's most challenging economic times. With personal charm and pure grit she found sponsors to revive The Boardwalk Easter Parade, July 4th Festivities and The Columbus Landing. She was a founding member of the highly acclaimed Jazz Festival and was responsible for the electrification of Sunset Lake Park, which became the festival's home. Her passion and love for Asbury Park did much to make it the amazing city it is today. As a tribute to her service, each year the Asbury Chamber awards "The Joan Flatley Spirit of Asbury Park Award" to an individual that exemplifies her generosity and spirit.
As successful as Joan was professionally, her proudest accomplishments were her children who she shared with her first husband, Hugh McLaughlin. It was through her children that she really saw it all. When Marie was competing as Miss Pennsylvania on stage for the Miss America crown in Atlantic City, Joan was in the front row cheering her on. She managed Katie's years long recovery from a serious motorcycle accident, but her fondest memories were riding on the back of Katie's Harley to her beloved Mrs. Jays. From the moment she walked in, Joan's dance card and glass were filled. She funded Dennis's start in the construction business and watched the venture flourish as she kept the books and managed the payroll. Every Friday, she would don overalls to deliver paychecks to his crew with each envelope accompanied by a well deserved frosty Budweiser. As New Jersey's Deputy Assistant Secretary of State under Governor Florio, John introduced her to the political set in Trenton. Later she would visit him in Los Angeles where his public relations clients included, amongst others, the Michael Jackson Family. He would take her to celebrity laden parties in Beverly Hills, Malibu and weekends in Palm Springs. She loved it all.
Having forever avoided the sun and eschewing make-up, Joan's fresh faced beauty illuminated every room she entered. Being an adored storyteller with an immeasurable knowledge of local history made her a sought after guest at gatherings up and down the Jersey Coast. Her keen intelligence and sharp sense of humor made her a stand out star at parties where everyone she met became a lifelong friend. You were equally likely to find her in flip flops under an umbrella at The Deal Casino or gowned and bejeweled at a Hollywood gala.
In Joan's 91 years on this earth she had many accomplishments, but they did not define who she was. Her grace, inner beauty, natural ability to show compassion and wisdom beyond her years touched the lives of everyone whom she came into contact with. Her quiet acts of kindness are known by a legion of dear friends who called her "Mama Joan." Her spirit which will forever live on with the lucky people who walked in her path.
Joan passed peacefully at home of natural causes on May 7, 2020. Husband Gene Flatley, with whom she traveled the world, predeceased her as did her first child, Hugh, Jr. She is survived by Marie Rotunda, Naples, FL; Katie and her husband Al Matovsky, Asbury Park; Dennis and his wife Carol, Brick; John and his husband Nick Reiser, with whom she lived, Middletown; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Due to the pandemic, the funeral was private, and a celebration of life bash will be scheduled at a later date. Those who wish may make a donation in Joan Flatley's memory to the Mercy Center of Asbury Park which has been helping women and children since 1986. Online gifts may be made at mercycenternj.org/support
. For condolences, please visit www.buckleyfuneralhome.net
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Published by Asbury Park Press from May 15 to May 17, 2020.