Joyce and Patrick Stoner are an Eccentric and Successful Local Power Couple
The WHYY film critic and his art conservationist wife make quite the potent pair.
BY LORA BILTON ENGLEHART
Joyce and Patrick Stoner. Photograph by Jim Graham.
Joyce and Patrick Stoner prefer flying under the radar. An art conservator, Joyce has never appeared on air with her well-known PBS movie critic husband, and Patrick doesn’t accompany his wife when she consults at museums. Even when she’s a guest on PBS, promoting art-related events, the on-air staff knows not to mention their connection.
Joyce claims the two share few interests outside theater and watching PBS shows like Downton Abbey—and they do go to the movies from time to time. Yet these two highly productive human beings have supported each other’s demanding work schedules and curious eccentricities for 47 years. “It’s really more like 20 years, because Patrick travels so much,” Joyce laughs.
Patrick grew up in Woodstock, Va., where he acted in local plays and worked as a radio host. “The one thing I’ve always had was a voice,” he says.
He was also a fan of the movies, watching his favorite films multiple times at a cousin’s movie theater. Patrick is a founding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia recently inducted him into its Hall of Fame. He’s hosted WHYY-TV’s syndicated movie-star interview programs Flicks and Quick Pics since the mid-1980s.
Joyce made her career choices at an early age. Growing up in Chevy Chase, Md., she pinpoints fifth grade as the time she identified her passions for theater and art. She didn’t want to choose between the two, so she made a decision: “I’ll concentrate on art during the day and work in theater at night.”
It’s what she’s done ever since. For 42 years, Joyce has been an art restoration consultant and art conservator for the Wyeth collection, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, and small museums and collectors in the Baltimore-Philadelphia area. She directs one of three fine art graduate conservation programs in the country, and she also has some impressive theater accomplishments. To date, she’s written lyrics, music and/or scripts for almost 30 stage productions. Notably, in 1974, Joyce wrote the lyrics and most of the music for the off-Broadway show I’ll Die If I Can’t Live Forever, which the New York Times called “the best mini-musical in town.”
Patrick and Joyce met in 1965 at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., when they acted opposite each other in a workshop production of Hamlet. Patrick earned a bachelor’s in theater and speech, and Joyce earned hers in fine arts. In 1970, each received a master’s degree—Patrick in drama from the University of Virginia and Joyce in art history from New York University. They married in William & Mary’s historic Wren Chapel.
The two then moved to New York City, where Patrick completed coursework for a doctorate in drama at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He also had a big part on the soap opera Love of Life, and he appeared in some Shakespeare productions. Joyce “reverse commuted,” studying art history in the city during the day and traveling to New Jersey at night to act in theater productions.
The next stop for the young couple was back to Virginia, where Patrick worked in radio and served as managing director of the Albemarle Playhouse in Charlottesville. Joyce was a conservator at the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and taught at Virginia Commonwealth University.
In 1976, they both accepted faculty positions at the University of Delaware. Patrick taught theater courses for the next 30 years, and Joyce continued her academic career in art conservation, completing her doctorate in art history in 1995. During those early days, the couple learned to juggle family life with their demanding schedules. “We took out ads in the university newspaper seeking babysitters,” says Joyce, laughing as she recalls that many of the young women who applied had red hair, just like her and her two girls.
In the summer of 1985, Joyce was a visiting scholar at the J. Paul Getty Museum in California. So Patrick visited movie studio lots and, by chance, was able to snag an interview with Chevy Chase, who was promoting Warner Bros.’ newly released National Lampoon’s European Vacation. Back East, WHYY aired the interview. Stoner scored a second taped interview, then a third. “After the third interview, the dam broke, and I was put on every studio’s approved interviewer list,” Patrick says.
Despite introductions to A-listers like Leonardo DiCaprio and “rock stars” of the art world like Andrew Wyeth, the Stoner daughters are proud of their parents, but not overly impressed. Patrick remembers walking into the house one day to see Eliza flipping through the channels. “She saw me on the screen and just kept clicking, without a nanosecond of hesitation,” he says.
Now living just outside Wilmington, both Stoners travel frequently for work, but they’re rarely able to accompany each other. Joyce plans her trips to museums and conferences around the world months in advance. Patrick, on the other hand, usually has short notice before having to hop on a plane and head to whatever location the studio has chosen for interviews.
Though both are in their 60s, retirement isn’t even on the horizon. When it comes to working with her students, Joyce calls herself “a major vampire,” feeding off their energy. Patrick, meanwhile, has returned to the classroom to teach the immensely popular course “Interviewing Movie Stars” at UD’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
“People retire because they want to,” says Patrick. “Why would we stop doing what we love?”