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home : obituaries : obituaries October 06, 2015

3/30/2013 10:00:00 PM
Obituary: Dr. Joan Tupper Fleming


Many of you will recognize the name of Joan Fleming because of her lifelong pursuit of excellence in education and her tireless devotion to community service. You may remember Joan for her quick humor and the twinkle in her eye, or for her nerve and her gall. She was rarely caught off-guard and to converse with her kept you on her toes. She was a fierce guardian of children's education, a loving mother and a devoted and loyal friend. She is unforgettable. Joan died on March 17, 2013, at the Hospice Family Care Center.

Joan hailed from Brookline, Mass., born on Sept. 20, 1927, to Alton F. and Louise Kinsey Tupper. She grew up in Wellesley, Mass., where she attended Seldon L. Brown Elementary School and graduated from Wellesley Senior High School in 1945. Her closest friends, Sally, Edwina (Dwina) and Nancy, spoke about a close-knit group of friends who stayed in touch through these many years. They attended the 50-year reunion at Wellesley, and they both came to visit Joan in Prescott a few years back. Sally remembers playing with their Shirley Temple "quintuplets." Their stories of young Joan were of a girl who was witty, fun and spontaneous.

Her family has deep roots in American history. Joan often spoke about the time when she crawled down Ralph Waldo Emerson's dinner table during a holiday feast, as was the tradition of the youngest in the household. Joan's aunt Helen, her grandmother's sister, was the live-in companion to Mr. Emerson's daughter, Miss Ellen. The Tuppers were given a land grant by the King of England before the American Revolution. Joan fondly remembers the time when her brother, John, met Henry Ford. He was shy and refused to speak to Mr. Ford, but he was certainly curious about the man. John asked after he left why Henry Ford was driving a brand-new Buick. Joan's family was the seventh generation of descendants of Captain Thomas Legate, who served in the Royal Navy and commanded a ship, which was lost in a battle in 1745. Joan was proud of her colorful family and her Yankee tradition.

Joan "Tupper" Fleming (her childhood friends called her "Tup") was most proud of her long career in education. Joan graduated from Skidmore College in New York and in 1958, she and her husband, Thomas Francis Fleming, headed west. She found a job teaching in the L.A. Watts School District as the only white teacher in an all-black school during the time of the Watts riots. As the violence escalated, Joan was told she would be excused from rotating playground supervision duty, as it would not be safe for her to go outside with tanks and rioters on the surrounding streets. Joan refused to be taken off rotation, saying that her students needed to learn that "being a different color was not a reason to change what was the right thing to do."

During her time in California, she pursued her master's degree at the University of Southern California, and her family moved to Arizona in 1969. Her husband, Tom, was hired by the McCulloch Corporation to direct the marketing of the historical purchase and relocation of the London Bridge to Lake Havasu City, Ariz., and that began her career teaching in Arizona.

While teaching, Joan continued on to earn her Ed.D. at Arizona State University. She worked at a pizza parlor to help pay for her degree in the evenings. She worked as a teacher and vice principal in Phoenix, and she retired from her career as a school principal at Casa Grande Elementary School District. She was one of only two women to serve in higher administration at the time and she encouraged young women to seek upward mobility in the school district. Upon moving to Prescott, she began her second career serving the community.

Her list of accomplishments while in Prescott is long. Joan has served countless boards, including five terms as president of the school board, and president of the Women's Center, the Prescott Heritage Park Zoo and the Chamber of Commerce. She has worked on projects for Big Brothers and Sisters, the Public Library, AAUW, Republican Women of Prescott, Prescott Area Leadership, Keep Prescott Beautiful and the Tri-City Gang Prevention Task Force, to name a few. She directed the Kids Voting for Education Committee, Hands across the Border, Governor Hull's Task Force on Educational Efficiency and Accountability, and was the chair of the Joint Technology Education Steering Committee. Joan was also an advocate for veterans and veterans' programs. She served on the Prescott 20/20 Committee as the education chair and on the Mayor's Economic Development Committee. This last year she was still serving on the PUSD school board and on the board of Mountain Club, where she resided the last few decades.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive or complete. She is most proud of her nearly 20 years on the Prescott school board. Her decisions were not always popular but Joan was quick to point out that it was not a popularity contest. She was fiscally responsible and listened to taxpayers as well as concerned educators and parents. Joan put education first and patiently listened to all arguments on any issue. She went with what her heart told her was the right thing to do. There is a picture in Joan's den of her receiving an award and shaking hands with Janet Napolitano, of which she was very proud, and Governor Hull called Joan out of sincere concern when she had a hip replacement. Joan was always humble about her service and her influence, but there is no doubt that she left a deep impression on Arizona, Prescott and on education everywhere. She was remarkable.

Joan is survived by her son Keith (Susan), her son, Kevin, her granddaughter Kelsey, and her grandson, Jonathan. She and her sister-in-law, Connie Tupper, stayed in close contact throughout the years. Joan will be greatly missed.

A Celebration of Life gathering for Joan will be from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, April 14, 2013, in the Goldwater Ballroom at the Prescott Resort. Her family has established the Prescott High School Joan T. Fleming Memorial Scholarship Fund. Contributions to the fund can be sent to Prescott High School, 1050 N. Ruth St., Prescott, AZ 86301, or to the PUSD district office, 146 S. Granite St., Prescott, AZ 86303.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, March 31, 2013
Article comment by: Cyndi Arbona

Joan was a truly wonderful, caring person. Seeing her was Always such a pleasure. She is greatly missed.

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