Joan Levy Coale



Joan Levy Coale, adored mother and grandmother, lover of the arts and the Wissahickon, and resident of Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill for nearly 100 years, died peacefully at home on February 25th, aged 97. Her heart and mind were engaged in the love of literature, art, and music throughout the entirety of her life. Born on December 29th, 1926, to Margaret Wasserman Levy and Lionel Faraday Levy, who built their house on Westview Street in 1929, Joan spent her childhood in the Wissahickon, attending Germantown Friends School, and playing the harp. She graduated from GFS in 1944, going on to earn a BA in Art History from Wellesley College in 1949. She married Edgar B. Coale (b. 1924-d. 2012), divorcing in 1975. They lived on Elbow Lane for twenty years and had four children.

Joan was a talented fabric and jewelry designer who attended the Penland School of Craft in Snow Creek, NC. Her work was elegant and inspired by forms she saw in nature. In her 50s, she studied toward her masters in English Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. One of her life missions was to fully absorb all the many layers of meaning in James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Born Jewish and brought up Quaker, she had a life-long love of Bach’s oratorios, passions, and compositions for the Mass. She was a frequent visitor to the Bethlehem Bach Festival and early music concerts at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. She was proud of her involvement in the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations at Saint Joseph’s University, and she held a deep appreciation for the symbolism of their commissioned sculpture, blessed in 2015 by the pope, entitled Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time.

Physically active throughout her life, she walked weekly on the Forbidden Drive in the Wissahickon with family, beloved friends, and a long line of faithful canine companions. She was especially moved by this exact time of year, in late March, when the buds cast a faint green across the gray woods emerging from winter. Until her late 80s she took her grandchildren on adventurous vacations — to the Grand Canyon, Italy, and elsewhere — and she maintained a weight training regimen into her mid-nineties. Her near-daily trips to Weavers Way in Chestnut Hill were a cherished source of community as well as the healthy, vegetable-centric food she had championed and cooked with since the late 1960s, long before it was popular.

With her characteristic lack of guile or jadedness of any kind, she defied the rules against planting a garden outside her first-floor apartment. When the landlord shut off her external water to drive the point home, she nonetheless planted a beautiful array of native plants and flowers chosen by herself and her sister, the landscape architect Carol Franklin, and watered them by hand.

She is survived by her sister Carol Franklin, her children Hannah Coale, Bill Coale (sadly, a missing person since 2020), Sydney Coale Light, and Howard Coale, in-laws Kevin Light and Rebecca Coale, and five grandchildren, Tillman Gruenberg, Lionel Gruenberg, Isabel Gruenberg, Cassie Coale, and Cecilia Coale.

If you’d like to make a gift in her honor, please consider making a “tribute donation” to Friends of the Wissahickon: