Joan D. Silvia


Joan D. Silvia died on Tuesday morning, May 1, at Massachusetts General Hospital after an illness of many months. Her heart, always strong enough to help others, became too weak to sustain herself.

Joan was born in Chicago in 1928, the daughter of Dr. W. J. Nixon Davis Jr. and the artist Helen Mason, relative of Virginia’s George Mason and Roswald B. Mason, mayor of Chicago during the infamous Chicago fire. While still a student at South Shore High School in Chicago, she performed piano professionally for the Chicago Park District and formed the popular dance band, “The Rhythm Indians.”

Upon leaving Grinnell College, Joan Silvia continued her piano studies with Earl Blair at the American Conservatory of Music and later at Pestalozzi Froebel Teachers College, both in Chicago.

In 1948, Joan married her high school sweetheart, Bernard G. Lenske Jr. (Ben). They lived briefly in Eugene, Oregon, before returning to the Chicago area to raise their three sons: Gregory, Lawrence, and Jeffrey. In 1970, Joan, Ben, and his son, Jeffrey, moved to Madison, Wisconsin, and helped form the Alliance for the Mentally Ill, the precursor to NAMI.

After Ben passed away from lung cancer in 1981, Joan moved to Martha’s Vineyard and began working as a bookkeeper in Edgartown for Jane Brown and, later, Al West. From the mid-80s until her retirement in 1989, she served as executive secretary of the Island Council on Aging. She taught Sunday School at the Federated Church, directed the St. Andrew’s hand-bell choir, and served as a substitute organist when needed.

She married Arthur Silvia of Oak Bluffs in March, 1989. Arthur, a well-known island double bassist, and Joan performed at Island venues, including a long-standing weekly appearance at the Lobster Roll Dinners at Grace Church. Their extensive repertory included such favorites as “Tenderly,” “Autumn Leaves,” “Sophisticated Lady,” and “Stormy Weather.”

Besides music, Joan and Arthur enjoyed all of Martha’s Vineyard and especially fly fishing, boating, biking, hiking, and gardening.

In 2007, Arthur entered the Alzheimer’s Unit at Windemere and Joan, a congregant of Grace Church, continued her participation with NAMI and music. Her late afternoon walks along Sea View Avenue provided her with exercise, fresh air, a favorite water view and the occasional meeting of a new friend.

Joan Silvia is survived by her three sons, five nieces, three nephews and a step family of two children, five grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.

Service information will be provided at a later date.