Joan Marie Brooks

Joan Marie Brooks (“Joanie” Hayes) was born February 15, 1952 in Tacoma, Washington and passed away on July 14th, 2021, surrounded by loved ones. She was fully vaccinated and her death does not appear to be directly caused by Covid-19.

Her childhood home was near Dash Point, Tacoma, Washington. She was the eldest of eight children. It was a very lively home by the beach with many friends, relatives and an ever-changing assortment of pets. She graduated from Federal Way High School in 1970 and attended Western Washington State College in Bellingham. After a couple of years there she returned to the Dash Point area. Joan married Dan Austin in 1973. Their adventures took them to Alaska, where they lived in a cabin on the Kenai Peninsula. Alas, they discovered that they had different goals in life and so they parted as friends. Joan traveled to Europe for six months and then lived in Seattle.

In her mid-20s, she took a pivotal car trip across the country with her sister, Gwen. Along the way, they stopped at a rural land community in Dodridge County, West Virginia to watch an eclipse. After returning to Seattle with Gwen, Joan moved to West Virginia to live in the community as part of the back to the land movement. She enjoyed feeling like J. M. Barrie’s Wendy and the Lost Boys, but eventually she realized that rural life was not for her, so she moved to the big city of Charleston, WV. There, she met Donald Brooks and they bonded over their shared love of swimming. She also loved the fact that he was already a good father to young daughters Karen and Diann. They got married and Mollie was born shortly after that. Joan stayed friends with the group in Dodridge County, and continued to go back to visit and stay grounded in her artistic, hippie nature even while married to a petroleum engineer.

After she and Don divorced, Joan continued to provide a very stimulating but safe environment for Diann and Mollie to grow up in. She was an active volunteer at Mollie’s elementary school, reading to classes, teaching improvisational theater, and once she adapted a children’s book about fractions into a play and directed the production (Gator Pie by Louise Mathews). She made more than 20 paper maché alligator hats for all the kids to wear in the play because all the characters were alligators. Joan drove across the country at least three more times: once with Mollie, another time with her dog Charlie and a pet bluejay whom she had rescued as a baby (the bluejay was never caged and instead rode on the steering wheel for most of the cross country drive), and a third time with her romantic partner Paul when they moved to Washington state. Before leaving WV, she completed her degree in Drama Therapy at West Virginia State College.

Joan loved cooking for people and talking about food. In her 20s, she worked as a cook at a battered women’s shelter in Seattle. Whenever a new resident arrived, she would ask them about their comfort foods and their culture and she would cook a meal accordingly. Throughout life, she read many cookbooks and spent many hours with Mollie watching educational cooking shows on TV to get inspiration. She was great at improvising with whatever ingredients were available. She also made delicious homemade breads and pepperoni rolls. She had an amazing Osterizer blender that she would take to Beth’s house in Dodridge County at the end of every summer, along with a liter of olive oil to help make pesto from Beth’s huge garden. She did a little catering on the side in WV, making vegetarian food for a Buddhist congregation, and making finger food for her partner Paul’s events at his Yellow Kid Art Gallery. She was always generous with food, feeding all of her kids’ friends. She even impressed some neighborhood moms when their kids learned to like fish after eating hers. When there were teenagers in the house, she would often yell down to the basement to have Diann or Mollie come up and get something she’d put together for their friends to snack on; sometimes it was cheese and crackers, or chewy ginger cookies, or leftover mushroom paté with french bread, or a plate of sliced oranges. She always knew what would hit the spot.

Joan made her stage debut at the Tacoma Little Theater while still in high school, and the theater bug bit her. She was in more plays at TLT including “Reluctant Debutante” and “Beekman Place”. She also acted at Federal Way HS, and always found her way to community theater from then on.

After moving to Charleston, WV she was a glowing fixture in the local theater community. She appeared in too many stage performances to count, including “Macbeth”, “The Dining Room”, “The ThreePenny Opera”, and “Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean”. In the mid-eighties, she introduced her daughters to the stage in a production of “The Frankensteins are Back in Town”.

Joan made her film debut in Danny Boyd’s 1992 film “Paradise Park” (a.k.a. “Heroes of the Heart”). Joan played the part of single mother Evelyn.

Her last performance in West Virginia, before returning to Washington state, was as Fraulein Schneider in “Cabaret” in 2000.  In her lifetime, she performed two roles in “Barefoot in the Park”, first as Corrie Bratter and later, in Port Orchard, Washington as Corrie’s mother, Mrs. Ethel Banks.

Joan was obsessed with books and anyone who knew her was blessed by this. She read books about every subject, from every era, and all genres. She was incredibly well read and loved to share books and information with those around her. At the time she was preparing to leave West Virginia, her book collection covered at least 200 square feet of wall space; this was an incredible asset to her daughters. She had a collection of first editions from authors such as Kurt Vonnegut, Abbie Hoffman, and John Lennon. Up until the Covid-19 pandemic, she was an active member of a book club in Seattle and she enjoyed their time together very much.

Joan began professionally selling used books at the family-owned Major’s Book Store in Charleston in 1986 with her own specialty niche under the name “Spellbound Books”, but books had been more than a hobby for most of her life. After Major’s shut down due to competition from chain stores, she was a catalyst in opening Trans-Allegheny Books on Capitol Street in 1988. She worked there from time to time, well into the 1990s.

Joan is survived by her siblings John, Chris, Julie and Gwen Hayes, and Liz Johnson; daughter Mollie Brooks; bonus-daughters Karen Brooks and Diann Lacroix; nieces Greta Johnson, Catherine Henry, and Magnolia Miller; and romantic partner Paul Nuchims.


She was preceded in death by her parents Tom and Dolores Hayes; brother Richard; and sister Mary Louise.

The family held a small celebration of Joan’s life at her sister Gwen’s home on a beautiful day outside in the garden on July 21st. Her daughters, sisters, nieces, and romantic partner were in attendance, as well as many of her friends. Due to the pandemic, a larger event did not seem appropriate. Instead of flowers, if you wish to make a donation in honor of Joan, please consider the Contemporary Youth Arts Company ( which does theatrical productions relevant to teenagers in Charleston, West Virginia (for online donations see; or, we also suggest West Virginia Health Right ( because Joan donated there recently.

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