Joan F. C. Houston, a World War II nursing assistant and former executive secretary who built her own home, died Saturday of renal failure at the House of Jubilee, a Fallston nursing home. She was 85.
The former Joan Frances Carol Morgan was born and raised in Cardiff, Wales. During World War II, she was a nursing assistant, stretcher bearer and enemy aircraft spotter.
During the war, she met and fell in love with Bradford N. Houston, a U.S. merchant marine steamship captain whose vessel's stern was blown off during the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach. It was then towed to a shipyard in Cardiff for repairs.
"She met him at a USO dance in Cardiff. It took 86 days to fix his ship, and during that time she caught him," said her son, Gwyn S. Houston of Fallston, with a laugh.
In 1947, the couple married and moved to a home on Chesterfield Avenue in Baltimore.
Her husband was a steamship captain for States Marine. From 1950 to 1965, she worked as an executive secretary at Rheem Manufacturing Co., a Sparrows Point company that made hot water heaters.
In the early 1970s, the couple moved to Cleveland, Texas.
A self-taught carpenter, Mrs. Houston achieved a lifelong dream when she designed and built her own home in Cleveland.
"It was completed during a two-year period when she was in her early 60s. She did all the carpentry and masonry work, as well as the electrical wiring and plumbing," her son said. 'The only thing she didn't do was install heavy supporting beams. She had someone else do that."
"She was proof that a woman could accomplish a difficult task at an advanced age," said Janice Houston, her daughter-in-law.
After her husband's death in 1984, she moved to Forest Hill in Harford County. Mrs. Houston enjoyed speaking about her wartime experiences to history students at C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air. She also liked sharing her enthusiasm for British literature and language with English classes at yearly tea parties held in Harford County public schools.
Her knowledge of trivia earned her an appearance in the late 1960s on Jeopardy, which was taped in New York City and then hosted by Art Fleming.
She was an accomplished seamstress and enjoyed making clothes for herself and others.
Mrs. Houston was an ordained Presbyterian deacon and for many years served on the Board of Lady Managers at the Towson Presbyterian Home.
She was a member for 60 years of the Transatlantic Brides and Parents Association, a British heritage society that helped English women adjust to their new lives in the United States. She had been branch secretary for The Bluebells, the organization's Baltimore chapter.
Plans for an August memorial service were incomplete yesterday.
Also surviving are two sisters, Gwen Edwards of Abergavenny, Wales, and Ruth Povey of Cardiff, Wales; three grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.