Colleagues and friends of the late Joy Valderrama Abbott bid her a final adieu at a mid-day gathering Wednesday (June 23) at Waialae Beach near the park. They couldn’t let the coronavirus further delay a memorial gathering.
Abbott was a well-known singer, dancer, philanthropist, businesswoman, tennis and golf enthusiast and a Broadway booster who resided in three states: Hawaii, Florida and Pennsylvania.
She died on Feb. 8, 2020, just as the coronavirus pandemic began to lock down life and activities, so a planned memorial then was cancelled. A year later, when COVID 19 was still in full bloom, here and elsewhere, it still was not prudent to hold a memorial service on the first anniversary of her passing.
Instead, a quiet, private remembrance gathering finally was held on the Waialae shoreline, with flowers dancing as if choreographed by Abbott. It was a time to reflect and say aloha to a beloved trouper.
Abbott was a member of Punahou School’s class of 1948, and her lifetime friend and fellow student, Elva Yoshihara, assembled a handful of Buffanblu grads for the send-off, with the scriptures shared by Philip Ching, also a classmate. An informal lunch at Waialae Country Club followed.
Abbott was the widow of the legendary Broadway producer, director, and playwright George Abbott, whose iconic creations included “Damn Yankees,” “Pajama Game” and “Pal Joey.”
While she never performed on Broadway, she was an advocate of theater and had been staging the “Mr. Abbott Awards,” honoring a luminary on the Great White Way, annually until her death.
She had an unbridled passion for the stage, particularly the Broadway musicals, and was never shy to share her vocal talents. In recent years, Abbott staged free cabaret performances tapping Jim Howard as her pianist accompanist. To reciprocate, her Arcadia friends even hosted a birthday party for her a couple of years ago.
Yoshihara recalls her BFF’s “never say no” spirit, citing an occasion from the past where Judy Murata invited them to dinner at the House Without a Key at the Halekulani Hotel, in the era where Kanoe Miller was the featured hula soloist.
“At that time, Joy had not had her second knee surgery or second hip surgery, so she was having a hard time walking with a cane,” said Yoshihara, who assisted Abbott to the stage.
When the lights were on and with a microphone facing her, Abbott was a pro and always ready to go. “She sang beautifully,” said Yoshihara. After one song, Abbott declared: “And now I would like to dance ‘Holoholo Kaa,’” which worried Yoshihara, who questioned her pal, “How in the world did you dance when you can hardly walk.”
Abbott replied, “Elva, when I’m on stage, I have no pain.”
Indeed, she was prone to so many surgeries – her shoulders, her knees, her hips – that I affectionately called her Bionic Woman because of numerous operations and interior replacements.
She had a flair for fashions, so she was always clad in attractive, eye-catching gowns. While her Hawaii gigs were informal and intimate, she also staged a Hawaii Theatre performance in decades past, where he singing and dancing and vogue-ish manners intersected. Oh, she also had a warehouse of jokes that she could share, mostly off stage.
Her indomitable spirit to entertain began years ago. At age 8, she was known as the Shirley Temple of Hawaii. As a performer for her business company named Moana, she did frequent shows, but after she met and married George Abbott in 1983, after a 25-year courtship, she curtailed her performances as her husband’s career flourished on the Great White Way. He died in 1995.
Joy graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia in 1953, where she excelled as a nationally known tennis player, competing her collegiate career as the captain of her undefeated team, earning a slot in the Temple University Hall of Fame.
Her allegiance to Temple resulted in the formation of the George and Joy Abbott Center for Musical Theater at the college, ensuring support and academic opportunities, for future generations of theater students. In 2007, Joy bequeathed her ownership share and future royalties earned through production of George Abbott shows, along with memorabilia, to the Boyer College of Music and Dance.
Joy also had a friend and business partner, Jerry Mirrow, who assisted her in staging shows on the East Coast and in Florida. They were companions until her death …
And that’s “Show Biz.” …