The Rev. Canon Joan Stuart Butler Ford, lifetime visitor to Maine and much loved and highly respected mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and Canon for Communications at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in San Diego, died on Dec. 6, 2021. She was 88. She was born to Bowe Smiley Butler, to whom the family affectionately referred as “Bosie,” and Joseph Green Butler III.
A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Joan and her mother moved to North Conway, New Hampshire, where Joan became an accomplished skier. As a teenager Joan would catch a ride up the mountain with Snowcat drivers she knew for some off-hours skiing. Even into her 50s Joan was an avid skier who could speed down any mountain with impeccable style, grace and athleticism, her skis so close together that they chattered against each other.
Throughout her life Joan enjoyed travels to Squirrel Island, a summer colony of about 100 cottages just offshore from Boothbay Harbor. Her great-grandfather, Joseph Green Butler II, invested in the island in 1873, and the family has maintained a presence ever since. Joan spent the summers of her youth on the island – where popular pastimes include tennis, boating, and walking through the hush of a Maine forest or along a rocky shore – and continued to visit the island annually through much of her life to socialize with family and childhood friends. Joan’s mother spent six months of each year at the island until her death in 1987 at age 83.
Joan graduated from Dana Hall School in Wellesley, Massachusetts at 16. She attended Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts and, after two years, she and Bosie traveled to Austria for six months and skied. Shortly after her return, she married Tom Willard Ford, her former next-door neighbor, and they lived for a brief time in Youngstown, Ohio. In 1955 Joan and Tom got into their car, “pointed it west” as they often told their offspring, and looked for a new place to live. They settled in the San Francisco Bay Area and in 1958 built a home in Portola Valley on the lower San Francisco peninsula.
Joan brought up her four children and volunteered for the Junior League among other organizations as Tom built what would become a highly successful real estate development and management business. Each February Joan pulled her children from school – there was no “ski week” then – and took them skiing at Lake Tahoe resorts. In 1974, having just turned 40, Joan decided to go back to school. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree and PhD in sociology, all at Stanford University. After earning her PhD, she started a company that performed research in the then-nascent field of artificial intelligence.
In her 50s Joan found what she later described as her true calling, to become a priest in the Episcopal church, a vocation she had envisioned for herself since her youth. She earned a Master of Divinity degree in 1990 at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkley, California. She was ordained as a priest of the Episcopal church in 1990 at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, where she lived and subsequently headed a congregation for several years.
By the early 1990s Joan’s marriage had ended, and she took up residence with her close friend, Rev. Canon Dorothy Reed Curry. In the late 1990s Joan and Dorothy moved to London, where Joan worked as communications director for the Anglican Communion and was instrumental in establishing the Communion’s worldwide online presence. She and Dorothy returned to the United States in 1999 and settled in San Diego, the city she adopted as home in the balmy climate she loved. Joan worked as a priest at St. Paul’s Cathedral, where she was made Canon for Communications in 2000.
Joan and Dorothy traveled all over the world, including to Cuba in the year 2000 on a needs-assessment visit on behalf of a fundraising arm of the Anglican church, known as the Compass Rose society. Joan dedicated herself to learning Spanish, and up to the time of her death she participated in remote-learning Spanish classes. On occasion she assisted with Spanish-language services at the Cathedral. Joan also was a founding board member of Vida Joven de Mexico, a San Diego nonprofit previously known as Dorcas House, which raises funds to house, care for and educate children in an orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico.
Joan was extremely able and prescient in the use of technology. For example, she banked online well before the dawn of the current century and was active on social media until the final days of her life. She also readily and happily participated in family Zoom gatherings during the current Covid-19 pandemic. She adored her and Dorothy’s dogs, including Danny, Joshua, Sandy, Gabby, and Canela, and her lush gardens, where she grew plumeria trees with fragrant flowers reminiscent of Hawaii, a favored vacationed destination since in the 1960s.
Joan was widely loved and greatly respected in her religious community and her family. A formidable intellect, Joan was a warm and gracious presence in any setting. She enjoyed hosting church congregants and friends and reveled in the company of her children and grandchildren, whom she and Dorothy often hosted for family gatherings at their San Diego home.
Joan is survived by her friend, Dorothy Reed Curry; her four children, Rich Ford of Newberg, Oregon; Dave Ford of New York City, New York; Anne Ford of Oxford, England; and Chris Ford, of Phoenix, Arizona; 13 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.
Services will be Jan. 8, 2022, at 10:30 a.m., St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, 2728 Sixth Avenue, San Diego, California 92103. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to St. Paul’s Cathedral of San Diego and Vida Joven de Mexico.