JOIE DE VIVRE
ARTICLE BY GEORGIANN POTTS
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KELLY MOORE CLARK
Sometimes a name just fits. That is certainly the case with Joy Russo Loomis. Those who know her recognize Joy’s joyful spirit, something her mother couldn’t have known when she named her infant daughter. Her mother would, however, recognize the joy in her daughter as she grew. Today Joy freely admits that she considers her joyfulness to be a blessing. Something else that is “joyful” is Joy’s unique sense of style. Her unique personal style is reflected in her personal appearance, her beautifully appointed home, and most of all in her attitude toward life. For these reasons, Joy Loomis is our Bayou Icon for September.
Joy grew up in Monroe (and later Ruston) in a traditional, loving family. Her father was an executive with Bell South and a real estate investor. Her mother was a stay-at-home mom who used her spare time to be an active volunteer at the Masur Museum of Art and other groups. Both of Joy’s parents were born and grew up in Monroe. “My parents were beautiful, and had a precious loving relationship,” Joy remembers.
There were four daughters born to the Russo family, with Joy being the third born. She laughs that her younger sister, Tiphanie, took the coveted “I’m the baby in the family” crown away when she was born 13 years after Joy. All three of Joy’s sisters have nursing degrees.
When Joy was 14, their father moved the family to Ruston – a city all of the girls call “home.” Joy’s grandparents had a home in Monroe on South Grand, and held big family gatherings there. Joy remembers those get-togethers as being filled with love. Her grandparents’ home overflowed with her cousins’ music, food, and lots of laughter. They all got together for holidays which made the occasions feel like blessings. Joy and her friends also enjoyed playing on the levee behind the Masur Museum. A very special memory was listening to her mother play “September Song” in their music room on her baby grand piano.
JOY HAS FOND MEMORIES of her school years. She attended local Catholic schools, Georgia Tucker, Ruston High, and graduated from Cedar Creek. She attended both Louisiana Tech and ULM, and graduated from ULM with a general studies degree and a minor in psychology.
Not all of her lessons were to be learned in the schools, however. She learned from her parents the lessons of faith, love, and hard work. From the love of her life, Al Loomis, she learned the importance of persistence, dedication, and hard work. Al was an attorney who practiced in the Monroe area for half a century. Known for his strong work ethic, Al’s example had what Joy calls “. . . the most profound impact on my professional career. I learned from him that I did not have to be the smartest person in the room. That, in turn, gave me the confidence to do more than I ever thought I was capable of.” During their nearly 38-year-long-marriage, the two of them supported each other in all ways, and adopted their own personal family motto: Be a warrior.
The two met on July 4, 1980 and it wasn’t love at first sight for Joy. However, she concedes that Al did have a “certain wittiness about him” that she found very interesting. Not so long ago, after Al’s death, his former assistant revealed to Joy that Al had told her that he was “going to marry that girl” on the night that the two first met. They married and had two children, a son born in 1983 and a daughter born 5 years later. “The prettiest Al Loomis with red hair!” she says with a laugh.
Dual Careers in Real Estate and Design
From her early years and before her marriage to Al, she tried several jobs as she searched for a satisfying career. Her earliest work experience was at Geno’s, a very popular Monroe Italian restaurant owned by the Bruscato family. From that work she learned the importance of both loving one’s family and doing something all by oneself to make a difference.
It was while she was in college that Joy decided to follow in her dad’s footsteps and acquire rental properties. “My ultimate goal was to be financially independent,” Joy explains. She was in her twenties when she built her first rental home. Interest rates were high, but she gained enough confidence from this small property to help her develop as a competent young business woman. “I have continued to grow this business through both commercial and residential properties in the Monroe and Ruston area,” Joy explains. “I just recently expanded my properties into the Hot Springs area.”
Joy and her sisters, according to Joy, always had an eye for dressing in a stylish manner. In fact, she had many family members whom she has always thought of as being style-conscious. Her Aunt Lydia Varino and her beautiful daughter, Mary Elizabeth Jacko, reminded her of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Joy’s grandmother, Ann Bruscato Varino, taught Joy’s oldest sister, Marianne, to sew, and she became a talented seamstress. “I remember a time when she wanted a maxicoat,” Joy says. “Then she made one!” Both of Joy’s parents loved beautiful art, and their influence helped the girls to develop their styles, too. Her mother was a classic beauty, according to Joy, and her father was a tall, handsome man. “I think that we came from a family that believed looks were important, but one should be natural at the same time.”
Joy’s own earliest sewing experience was while she was taking a Home Economics class at Cedar Creek. She remembers making a navy jacket with pockets. It was an excellent learning experience. Later when she began designing clothes, she took an additional sewing class. This was more for her personal pleasure than for her business, however. “I wanted my clients to have the best seams so I found sewers in Dallas and Atlanta for our clothes.”
Joy’s initial start in the clothing business came in 1999 when she began selling clothes out of her home “as a side hustle” to achieve two goals – to grow her rental business and to get fabulous clothes. She started selling a high-end clothing brand (WORTH) for a number of years. She was so good at it that Jay Rosenburg, part owner of the company, invited her to New York City because he wanted to meet the girl whose sales figures in Monroe were better than those in Dallas and Atlanta. Joy’s association with WORTH was good professionally and personally. The fashion networking that she enjoyed meant that she was invited to runway shows at the Breakers in Palm Beach and in NYC.
A little over a decade later, that “hobby” became a design business when she and her daughter, Alex, formed Truly Red by Alexandra Joy and began designing their own line of dresses. Their designs featured easy-to-wear shift dresses to which they added interesting trims on the collars and sleeves. The brand grew to include “Mother of the Bride” dresses for close friends. Joy sold the dresses out of her home, in a local boutique, and online. She also offered made-to-order designs.
For several reasons, the mother-daughter design team decided to halt production. Joy’s daughter wanted to continue her studies to become an attorney; it became increasingly difficult to access the fabrics that they wanted; and their lead seamstress moved to Atlanta. But the dream hasn’t disappeared altogether. Alex is currently working on elevating the look of athletic wear – a bold multi-purpose athletic/exercise dress.
Joy dipped back into the clothing sales business by private home showings when she agreed to sell a casual clothing line (CABI). She did this for about seven years, and loved the friendships that she made through it. “I loved making everyone feel and look their very best,” she says with a smile.
Joy’s Personal Style
It is fascinating to hear Joy speak about her own personal style. Her family was always very busy with athletic events, and Joy has always enjoyed exercise. She describes her ideal daily style as a “chic, sporty, outdoor look.”
Joy is not a brand fanatic, nor has she ever been. She has some brand-name purses, jewels, and outfits in her personal collection, but she is drawn more to the feel of the fabric and the style and fit of the piece. At the top of her requirements for selecting something for herself is its versatility. “I love a stretch flair or a straight stretchy structured pant that can be worn with sneakers and then elevated for a meeting with pumps and a matching top,” she explains. She also finds herself drawn to solids more than prints. “You never tire as easily with a solid piece,” she explains. “Most of the time it looks more expensive than a wild print. I find that a solid piece can make the most memorable statement.”
The “comfort factor” about clothes is important to Joy, too. She never wants her “look” to be – or appear – uncomfortable. She believes that every woman can find a sophisticated, yet relaxed style that fits her best. When that happens, Joy says you can’t help but feel your best. “And when you feel your best, you are happy,” Joy adds. “And people gravitate toward happy people.”
To test her “style sense”, she was asked recently to describe what she would choose to wear for two completely different occasions – to a dinner at Buckingham Palace with Queen Elizabeth, and to a rock concert with Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney. Her answers reflect her approach to style beautifully.
To dine with Queen Elizabeth, Joy envisions a “high neck” piece (she adores a top or dress that comes well over the neck). The piece could be a structured pale pink dress that comes mid-way up the neck with sleeves just above the elbows. It would flare out to about tea length and would be accessorized with pale pink pointed stilettos. OR, she would be equally comfortable in a pencil white pant hemmed 2 inches above the ankles. Over this would be an exotic floor-length structured, long-sleeved top that would cut horizontally across the body. It would be accessorized with a statement belt and brooch (a subtle compliment to the Queen since the brooch is Her Majesty’s favorite type of jewelry).
For the rock concert with two legends, Joy would choose something easy. A pair of stretchy leather pants, a white tee, and a cropped jacket accessorized with a pair of comfortable chunky heels and she would be all set! “This is why I love fashion,” Joy says. “I love all of the ways you can change up your look! So many are divine!”
Giving Back With Love
Joy’s parents were excellent mentors for her and her sisters, instilling in them the importance of giving back to their communities and to their families. Her mother volunteered at the art museum, garden clubs, at her church, and often opened her home on Friday nights for Bible Study. Her father focused his volunteer work for the town of Ruston, and joined many organizations there that gave him the opportunity to give back.
Joy has volunteered through the Junior League of Monroe, the Monroe Garden Club, and the P.E.O. Sisterhood Chapter AE. She also enjoys two investment clubs and a book club, and has enjoyed leadership positions in all of them. Like her mother, Joy spends a lot of volunteer time working for her church – working in the soup kitchen, arranging flowers for Hospice, praying for others and for the community as a part of the Adoration program at her local church. She has very much enjoyed her participation in ACTS and has served in several leadership roles there including the presidency.
Her faith is at the center of Joy’s life, and her volunteer efforts (formal and informal) certainly reflect that. She believes that it is important to give back the blessings that God has given you. “You always remember the kind things said or done for you, and you want others to feel that same love,” she says. One way to do that is to volunteer. “I encourage everyone to be a part of our community,” she says. “There is a spot for everyone. Just ask, and God will open a door. It’s not about your talent – it’s about reaching out and letting others feel the comfort of His love for all of us.”
As for family love, nothing pleases Joy more than being able to be with her grandchildren. She has four: Elizabeth Nordstrom Barham and Lillian Joy Barham, her granddaughters; and Albert Edward Loomis V and John Leonard Loomis, her grandsons. She looks forward to traveling with them. She loves watching them experience their childhoods, and is grateful for these special blessings in her life.
Finding Joy in Every Day
Joy’s dual careers — investing in rental properties and designing/selling clothes – have allowed her enough personal flexibility so that she could prioritize rearing her family and caring for her mother and her late husband when they needed her.
Joy has enjoyed extensive travel in her life, and is now eyeing a cruise to Alaska. She is trying to talk her sisters into a trip to Nantucket, and hopes to be enjoying a girls’ trip to NYC in December. At some point not too far away, Joy would love to return to Italy and visit with relatives there.
A tennis player since she was very young, Joy also enjoys a round of golf. She was given her first set of clubs 32 years ago as a present for having their baby girl. Music of all kinds – classical to Sinatra to country – delights her, as does reading. Non-fiction books are her favorites, and studying the scripture is a beloved way of spending time for her.
One of Joy’s favorite scriptures is Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” — an appropriate scripture for an exceptional lady whose faith and joyful nature have touched so many lives.