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Joan Campbell Snodgrass Callaway ’54

May 5, 2019, at home in Davis, California.

On New Year’s Eve in 1970, Joan tucked her 12-year-old son Keith into bed following a family skiing trip. Later that night, a fire broke out in their Davis home. Joan and her husband, Glen Snodgrass ’53, rushed to get the kids and dog out, but one of the children shouted that Keith was still in the house. Glen broke a window and pulled Keith onto the grass as the fire trucks arrived. Both Glen and Keith died as a result of the fire. Years later, Joan wrote a book about that awful night, It’s an Ill Wind, Indeed . . . That Blows No Good, recounting how she and her four surviving children survived, coped, and eventually healed from the tragedy. The memoir is a hopeful exploration of grief from the vantage point of a widow and her teenaged children, who lost not only a father and brother, but also a mother as they had always known her.

Until the tragedy, Joan had identified as a wife and mother who, when the need arose, worked as an administrative assistant, transcriptionist, or speechwriter. The arduous journey following the death of her husband and son led her to search for a meaningful life. She became a guide to others who were surviving tragic loss. Working with psychologist Louise Wilson, Joan cofounded a group called Bereavement Outreach, which started out with six widowed people and expanded to include parents who had lost children. Active in many areas of mental health at the state and local levels, Joan received a number of awards for her work.

Realizing she needed to make a living, Joan opened a store that sold craft-based art and beads. One day, she gambled that some customers might be willing to pay more for Laurel Burch earrings. Those earrings sold quickly and Joan became known as the “Earring Lady” when she switched from selling beads to selling earrings. She opened two more boutiques that sold clothing, art, and antiques from around the world. Customers would come in and hold palettes up to clothes to match the color tones that flattered their summer, winter, fall, or spring complexions.

Intrigued, Joan began a quest to understand seasonal color analysis—how fashion, color, and personality intersect. In 1986, she wrote The Color Connection: From a Retailer’s Perspective for retailers and designers and later published a consumer style guide. She continued to raise her children and eventually found love again, marrying Ed Callaway in 1976.

After writing a second memoir, Invisible to the Eye, Joan founded and facilitated a memoir-writing group. She believed that a strong democracy is shaped by the efforts of individuals in their own communities. During her 53 years in Davis, she cofounded Bereavement Outreach, Citizens Who Care, and Yolo Community Care Continuum; was president of the Yolo County Mental Health Association; and founded Be Smart, a literacy program in Davis. She was also instrumental in the opening of All Things Right & Relevant, a consignment store which benefits a handful of local nonprofit organizations.

A beneficiary of  services that Joan helped start wrote, “You have clearly put your life, your losses, and your extraordinary energy to good use all your adult years. I believe there are known and unknown angels in every life, and you have been one of the heretofore invisible angels at work in ours.”

In addition to her husband, Ed Callaway, Joan is survived by her children, Valerie Henry ’73, Marci Snodgrass Reilly, Laurie Snodgrass, and Mark Snodgrass. 

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2018

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