Most power couples thrive on publicity and love having their picture taken. For Joyce and Patrick Stoner, not so much. They prefer flying under the radar and deflecting attention toward their work.
An art conservator, Joyce Hill Stoner has never appeared on air with Patrick, the well-known PBS movie critic, and Patrick doesn’t accompany his wife when she consults at museums. Even when Joyce is a guest on PBS, promoting art-related events, the on-air staff knows not to mention their connection.
Joyce claims she and Patrick share few interests, outside theater and watching PBS shows like Downton Abbey. They do go to the movies from time to time. Still, these two highly productive human beings have supported each other’s demanding work, crazy schedules and curious eccentricities for 47 years. “It’s really more like 20 years because Patrick travels so much,” Joyce laughs.
According to their two adult daughters, Joyce and Patrick were great parents when they were growing up. Eliza remembers waking up on Saturday mornings to the sound of her mother typing her doctoral dissertation on an old Macintosh computer, jumping up to make breakfast as soon as she appeared. She also recalls her dad taking her to school the morning after returning from a California junket on the red-eye. “Our parents didn’t fit the traditional mold, for which I’m grateful,” says daughter Catherine. “They were both engaged parents and hardworking professionals, and we could always count on them.”
Patrick grew up in Woodstock, Va., where he acted in local plays and worked as an on-air radio host. As a young man, he didn’t have a specific career goal in mind, but he imagined it would involve speaking. “The one thing I always had was a voice,” he says.
Patrick was also a fan of the silver screen, watching his favorite films multiple times at his second cousin’s movie theater. He’s 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 while 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.”
And that’s exactly what she’s done. Since 1976, 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. Her 11-page curriculum vitae is a combination of academic appointments in the world of art conservation—she directs one of three fine art graduate conservation programs in the country—and impressive theater accomplishments. To date, she’s written lyrics, music and/or scripts for almost 30 stage productions. Notably, in 1974, she 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 her’s in fine arts. In 1970, each received a master’s degree—Patrick’s in drama from the University of Virginia and Joyce’s in art history from New York University. They married in William & Mary’s historic Wren Chapel.
The Stoners 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 part in 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 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 a 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,” Joyce says.
Looking back, she laughs as she recalls that many of the young women who applied had red hair, just like her and the 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.
He believes his theater background is an advantage in understanding an actor’s mind. He enjoys talking to them about their craft, as do they. Actors like Johnny Depp always look forward to Patrick’s insightful questions.
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.
Both Stoners travel frequently for work, but they are 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 actor interviews.
Retirement for Joyce and Patrick, who are both in their 60s, is not even on the horizon. “People retire because they want to. Why would we stop doing what we love?” asks Patrick.
Joyce claims she is “a major vampire” when working with her students, feeding on their boundless energy. Patrick has recently returned to the classroom to teach “Interviewing Movie Stars” at the University of Delaware’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Not surprisingly, it’s a popular course with a waiting list.
Patrick’s has some career advice he’s shared with his daughters and his young theater students at UD: “Go after what you’d be willing to do for free, and you’ll never regret your career choice.”