Nellye Joyce Lewis Punch: “A Life of Loving Leadership and Committed Service”
Another one of God’s angels transitioned to her heavenly home on Christmas Day. Mrs. Nellye Joyce Lewis Punch was a dedicated educator, counselor, public speaker, activist and community servant. The youngest of two children born to Walter Eugene and Victoria Elliott Lewis, Nellye Joyce arrived on July 21, 1921 in the farming town of Hungerford (Wharton County), Texas. The family’s move to the historic Fifth Ward of Houston provided her with the opportunity to graduate from Bruce Elementary and Phillis Wheatley High School. As an outstanding scholar, Nellye Joyce graduated from Wheatley in 1937 at the age of fifteen and later graduated from Prairie View College as a Home Economics major. She later received her Masters of Arts degree in Education from Texas Southern University. While a student at Wheatley, she met Richard H. Punch, whom she married and later raised their two daughters, Sheila Joyce and Delores Christine.
Nellye Joyce began her career as a career educator Kay Elementary School and found her true calling as a science teacher at E. O. Smith Junior High School, named for her former high school principal. She taught thousands of students during her 36 years in HISD, and later became Chair of the Science Department at Smith. She also became a licensed certified counselor and worked as a Consultant in the Research & Group Testing Department of HISD.
Mrs. Punch was actively involved in her community and was often referred to as “Fifth Ward’s unofficial Congresswoman” and sometimes “Mayor of Fifth Ward”. To name a few organizations, she served boards including: the Lyons Avenue Health Clinic Advisory Board where she pioneered “Baby Buddy”, one of Houston’s most successful prenatal health care programs; the Friends of the Library of TSU, Target Hunger, March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, Jensen Neighborhood Council, Visiting Nurses Association, Vice President of the League of Women Voters, Presbyterian Children’s Home and Service Agency, lifetime member of the National Education Association, national board member of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Blue Triangle Branch YWCA, Houston Area Urban League Education Committee, Mayor’s Citizens Assistance Program, first Area Director of the Northeast Area Houston Teachers Association, member of the Texas State Teachers Association, National Science Teachers, YMCA and Jack and Jill of America, Inc. She was a member of the Executive Committee of the Houston Teachers Association and mentored many educators and university administrators. She was a Past President of both the Phillis Wheatley Alumni Association and Houston Classroom Teachers Association.
She was a faithful member of Pinecrest Presbyterian Church for over seventy years. She was an Adult Sunday school teacher as well as a trustee and later an elder. She became the first African American and first woman to hold the position of Moderator of the Brazos Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of the United States.
Mrs. Punch received numerous awards for her extraordinary community service and was honored when she was selected by her community to be included in the stately, mosaic tile wall of the “Legends of Fifth Ward,” located on Eastex Freeway. She set the standard of civic responsibility and was a role model for younger leaders like Barbara Jordan, Mickey Leland, Harold Dutton, El Franco Lee, Al Edwards, Ruth Stubblefield Simmons and many others who were part of the Fifth Ward “close knit” community.
She has completed her course and those who are left to cherish her extraordinary life are: her daughters, Sheila A. Lockhart and Delores Christine Browne; grandsons, Sean C. Lockhart, Erran Booker (Erica), Kelly Boyd (Maria); great grandchildren, Autumn Denise, Kailan and Joycelyn; cousins, Flossie B. Lewis and Frances S. Richardson; adopted son Robert D. “B.J.” Garrett, foster son Robert Lee Handy; Godsons Alfred Calloway and Wayne Lewis; as well as a host of friends, neighbors and many who remain greatly appreciative of her genuine friendship and overwhelming commitment. The impact of her life on the Houston community and the nation will live on for generations to come. “Mrs. P” will be sorely missed.