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Joanne Hebb Belk

Hanover, N.H. — Joanne Hebb Belk passed away peacefully at her home at Wheelock Terrace in Hanover on Monday, March 4, 2013.

Mrs. Belk was born to Edwin Elijah Hebb and Louise Whiting Hebb on June 8, 1923 in Detroit. Her father was an engineer in the Michigan State Bell Telephone company and retired as a Colonel from the Air Force Reserve. Her mother, Louise, was a women’s physical fitness instructor who died from pneumonia in 1929. Joanne and her siblings, Edwin and Louise were sent to live with relatives in Hingham, and later Framingham, Mass.

Joanne graduated from Framingham Academy and High School in June 1940 and spent summers and free time writing and editing for Boston area newspapers. She attended Simmons College and received her B.S. in June 1944 and immediately entered the Women’s Army Corp (WAC) and was promoted to Second Lieutenant in November 1944. She served as the Public Relations officer at the Thomas M. England Hospital in New Jersey where she met her future husband, Samuel E. Belk III, who was recovering from wounds and an amputation received in the Normandy Campaign and while a prisoner of the Germans.

In 1946, Joanne travelled to and studied in Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland for one year in the American Students Abroad Program. She returned to the United States to write on the staff of the Boston Herald and was married to Mr. Belk on Sept. 8, 1949, at the Old Ship Church in Hingham, Mass. The newly married couple then travelled to London and Joanne worked for the War Relief Agency of the US Government. They then spent a year in Berkeley, Calif. where Mr. Belk completed his Masters in Slavic Studies. In 1952, they moved to Washington D.C. where they would remain for over half a century.

In 1955, Joanne gave birth to her only child, Samuel “Q” Belk. Her marriage to Mr. Belk ended in divorce in 1961, but both continued in close contact until his death in 2007. In 1967, she joined the staff of Science Magazine as an editor, received her paralegal certification from George Washington University in 1975, and, in 1977, began a twenty year career with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as Director of Freedom of Information. She retired after 21 years, in 1998, at the age of 75. She continued to live in her house of 46 years until 2008. She relocated to Hanover to be closer to her son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren.

Throughout her life Joanne Belk was a fierce believer in the benefits of the highest quality education for others, even while she was largely unable to afford or take advantage of them herself, growing up during the latter years of the Depression and the Second World War. In her teens, while living with relatives, she pushed her younger brother into Phillips Exeter Academy, which eventually led to a degree at MIT. Likewise she enabled her son to study at St. Paul’s School, Dartmouth, and Stanford; her grandchildren followed at St. Paul’s. She travelled widely: to Africa, Europe, and Asia, often with her best friend, Marilie “Mouse” Rockefeller of Washington who passed away in 2005. Both loved and attended the opera.

She is survived by her son, Samuel (“Q”), daughter-in-law Sherry Thornburg, and two grandchildren Samuel Ellison (“Jonah”) and Anna Elizabeth. She was pre-deceased by her younger brother Edwin, a life-long employee of General Motors and her older sister Louise of Brea, California.