It is with deep sadness that the family of Sarah Joan (“Joan”) Allen Conley announces her passing from causes related to COPD on January 15, 2018 at the Gem Adult Family Home in Everett, WA. Born on June 29, 1932 to Helen and James Allen in Wallace, ID, Joan as a child resided in Spokane, WA, with her parents and sister Dorothy Ann, but it was in the mining areas of the Little Belt Mountains of north-central Montana that she grew up. Throughout her youth, Joan would often travel to the property that was owned and maintained by her father’s mining company, the Lexington Silver Mining Company—often times driving her father from Spokane to the property, which is located near the hamlet of Neihart, on a nearly 10 hour journey. (This she did even before she was old enough to have a license!) Learning at her father’s feet about the nature and conduct of the mining business over the course of her first 30 years of life, Joan gradually became entrusted with responsibilities in the running of the business, to the point that she became an officer in the aforementioned company, and also purchased mining property on her own. From her father’s tutelage in all aspects of the mining business, Joan felt as at home doing surveying and assessment work on the mining claims contained on her beloved “Little Baldy” and “Long Baldy” mountains as she did in the company’s boardroom and the Spokane area mineral stock exchanges. Thus, the legend of “Slide Rock Joanie”—the woman who scaled and measured all of the mountains in the Neihart area, even through challenging terrain—was earned by not only her fealty to her father but also to her indomitable spirit and sweat.
Besides being a “Silver Miner’s Daughter,” Joan, who certainly never would have considered herself a feminist, blazed a trail for women that only the hardiest of social pioneers could appreciate. At first, Joan, to get practical work experience other than from her mining experience, went to the now-shuttered Cheney (WA) teacher’s college in the early 1950s, and, from that, she earned her teaching credentials that allowed her to teach in the Spokane Valley school district, including its high school. Knowing that she did not want to be “Our Miss Brooks” forever, she matriculated into the Gonzaga Law School, which, at that time, was a bold move for a young lady. (She, as well as her sister, were two of the first women to enroll into that law school.) During her tenure at Gonzaga Law and during one of her trips to Montana in circa 1958, she met Robert (“Bob”) W. Conley, a young lawyer who had just started an insurance business. Bob, who was entranced by her beauty (“My little movie star,” he said) and beguiled by her raw intelligence, knew from the moment that they met that they would be together forever. Soon, they were married, and later they had a son James. During this period, Joan discontinued her studies at Gonzaga Law, but, under the instruction of Bob and family friend Joe Marra, she passed the Montana Bar Exam. From 1966 through 1972, Joan practiced law in Great Falls, Montana, but, her attention to the law was gradually diverted by the needs of the mining business following her father’s death in 1970 and strife with various relatives that developed as they came to loggerheads over the direction of the business.
In the mid-1970s, when Bob’s job as claims manager for Travelers Insurance Company was transferred from Great Falls to Lubbock, TX and then later to Bellevue, the family moved in tow. Upon her return to Washington State, Joan, as she had done for most of her entire life, invested time in the continuing management of the Montana mining property, and, of course, her family. She also, however, dabbled in grassroots politics, becoming an elected GOP leader for her Bellevue precinct. (She always laughed that, in 1984, she somehow received more votes in her precinct than President Reagan did in his resounding re-election sweep.) When Bob retired in the early 1990s, Joan, when not in the stores looking for bargains to share with her family and friends, took pleasure in watching cable news with him and commenting on the state of world. She also, at that time, renewed her life-long passion for animals, especially dogs. In their precious pug-mix Clyde, both Bob and Joan found a new outlet for their doting ways, especially after their son Jim had left home to start his own family.
Starting in 2003, however, even Clyde took second billing in Joan’s heart, when she was presented with her granddaughter Chloe. The rest of Joan’s life was devoted to caring for Bob as his health declined, spoiling Chloe as she grew, travelling with Jim and Suzanne, and making room in her heart for her treasured domestic shorthaired “Kitty Pie”. To say Joan lived a varied and unique life is to engage in understatement. Joan lived a singularly Western American life that tested social and professional convention through uncertain and evolving times that spanned the Depression &World War II through the Cold War to the early 21st Century in her own distinctive way and on her own uncompromising terms.
Joan, who is preceded in death by her husband, father, mother, and sister is survived by her son James, granddaughter Chloe, as well as daughter-in-law Suzanne. She will be reunited with her husband at Mount Tahoma National Cemetery on January 29, 2018, which is their 56th wedding anniversary.