By: Rebecca Parvaresh
A life lived in service of others is a life richer than any currency can define. For the family and friends of Joan and Gary Livingston, the years of service left behind by the couple carries on with each passing day as a testament to their love for others.
Joan Livingston was a special friend to this publication. She shared her talent of capturing life on film through many pictures that filled the pages with each passing issue. She passed from this world on September 4th 2015, but not without giving us all so many gifts through her service and friendship. She was the owner of Miller Studio in Stephenville and was responsible for many portraits and family Christmas cards for area residents for the last 35-plus years.
She was born in Monahans, Texas in 1951, but her family quickly moved to Stephenville. Upon their arrival, her father, Manuel Miller, opened the doors to Miller Studio in 1956. “Miller Studio was a family business in every sense of the word,” Martin Livingston, son of Joan and Gary, explained.
“My Grandpa, Grandma, Aunt Jan, and mom all worked there while they were able and together in Stephenville. She grew up with photography and learned what she knew from Grandpa Miller. Together they made memories for people as one of the few, if not only, studios in the area at that time.”
Martin recalled the years he spent growing up around a family-based business that focused on more than selling portraits, but on celebrating friends, families and neighbors through each phase of life. “The studio was always an exciting place to hang out as a kid. There were always new faces to meet, and old faces that became like family. Year after year the same families would come in for their holiday greeting cards, reunions, wedding and bridal portraits, senior pictures, and on and on. The studio was responsible for photographs for magazines, billboards, newspapers, yearbooks, postcards, and local youth sports teams. There was a time that I would say almost every photo in Stephenville that was professionally made, was from Miller Studio. It was exciting to go into a stranger’s house or new friend’s house and see portraits from Miller Studio placed on the mantle, or hanging on the walls in the living room.”
Before Joan joined her father’s photography studio full time, she attended Tarleton University. That is where she met Gary. He was a young man who had returned from Vietnam where he served as a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He was studying to later receive his M.S. in Freshwater Biology. They both participated in campus social groups and the rest is history. The two married and began their careers. Joan helped her father in his studio and Gary became a coach and teacher. “Dad was a teacher by profession and taught many students in the area,” Martin said. “He taught mostly sciences, but also coached the Strawn 6-man football and golf teams. He would drive the bus when he needed to as well. His tenure was spent in Stephenville, Strawn, and Huckabay, where he was assistant principal for several years.”
The Livingstons made their fellow community members feel like family. Through teaching their children or celebrating their milestones through a camera lens, they were always present and prepared to serve others. Martin recalls how his mother was an active member of Oakdale United Methodist Church and worked with various committees in the church.
“She tended to 2nd every motion so that they could move on to the end of the meeting to do something more fun like eat or play games,” he said. “She cooked many meals for the church and the Wesley Foundation at Tarleton for their weekly student union outreach program. She was also a member of the Ultra Club Big Band at Tarleton for many years where she played the tenor saxophone. One of the coolest things she did for the community was open a restaurant downtown next to the Studio. ‘Martin’s Restaurant’ was cooking food for the square and downtown for about 8 years. It was a breakfast and lunch place open from 7am to 3pm. I still haven’t found a better club sandwich or potato salad. The last few years the restaurant was open, Martin’s served dinner on Friday and Saturday nights with a coffee and jazz club upstairs called Up Martin’s. Members of the Tarleton jazz bands and others in the community would come and play in an open jam format. The best part was that it served as dinner music for the patrons downstairs. After the Count Basie Orchestra played at Tarleton during its 100th Anniversary celebration, a few band members came up and jammed with the students. Mom had made that happen by providing a place where music could flourish.”
Joan and Gary both valued making a space in the community for people to learn and grow. As Martin and his brother Adam grew, they recall many trips where their dad taught them the fundamentals of fishing and golf. “Dad was an avid golfer and fisherman,” Martin recalled. “We had a family membership at Tejas Golf Course in town and we used to play during the summers when we were both out of school. He was also a lay leader at Oakdale United Methodist Church for some time. He joined the Gideon’s International and was on committees at the church along with Mom. Some of the best times were playing golf with my dad at Tejas. He could hit the ball farther than anyone I have ever seen. One of his and my favorite times out there was during a father/son scramble where we played very well and had a great time. You learn a lot about a person spending summers on the golf course with them. We had a special bond on the course and in life from those times spent early on. Cleaning out their garage the other day, I found my first golf club that he made for me with a sawed off putter with a duct tape grip. I think I was about 3-years-old.”
The Livingston children watched their parents personify community time and time again. “Working with mom at the studio or restaurant was how we bonded,” Martin said. “I would help her with taking pictures or traveling with her to make portraits in the community. Adam did this when he got old enough and I know he looks back on these days as good ones. I worked as a dishwasher, cook, delivery boy, janitor, coffee slinger, and overall work crew at the restaurant. Mom was very proud of that place and would get very smiley and giddy when a customer would compliment her with words or with the satisfied glance of a person with a full belly. Mom was a provider in every sense of the word. She gave everything she had up until the very end for her family, friends, and community.”
The community gave back to the Livingstons in an amazing way according to Martin and his brother Adam. Only a few weeks after the passing of their mother, they also faced the passing of their father. They are so thankful for the sharing of stories from friends in the community at both of their parents’ services. Martin recalls after his mother passed, “Her memorial service was amazing and was a virtual who’s who of our life in the Stephenville community. The turnout at the church and on social media was ridiculously awesome.”
When it comes to the legacy of Gary and Joan, their children hope their mother is remembered for her welcoming, caring, and funny personality. As Martin said, “She never knew a stranger, and I feel she left each person she came in contact with a little better off from having known her. Her dedication to her church, her family, her friends, and her businesses was amazing.” Their father was a man who always worked to take care of others, which is an attribute Martin says will live on. “My dad was only in the military for a few years but was a hero his entire life. He was a gentle giant who loved kids and would quickly make friends with all he came in contact with. He was quick with a pun or a joke, and wanted to make sure when he parted company, they had a smile on their face.
He also did everything he had to do to make sure his family was taken care of. He did this to the very end. Over the last few years as a retiree from teaching, he worked several different jobs at various times. He opened Livingston Realty, worked at the Agave/City Limits, and at Wal-Mart to help support the family. Even with his health failing him, he made sure he was there either in the electronics or the sporting goods areas helping customers.”
We at Erath County Living are thankful to Joan for illustrating our stories with the faces of her friends and neighbors, and hope Joan and Gary’s legacy of service continues on in the hearts of those they knew.
Photo’s provided by the Livingston Family