Our community knows Joyce Beverly as the force behind Fayette Woman magazine, the woman who’s told hundreds of stories about special, incredible, everyday local women over the last 16 years. But Joyce’s history of storytelling begins long before the magazine launched. Her own story begins, like so many others, with a small town and big dreams.
Joyce Pennington was born in Aiken, South Carolina in 1963. When she was six weeks old, her family moved across the river to Georgia. Her mom spent a decade raising Joyce and her two younger siblings full-time, then went to work outside the home, first as a school parapro and then as a civil employee at Fort Gordon for 34 years. For many of those years, her mom served as a property manager for all of the U.S. Army’s hospitals around the world.
“I come from a family of strong, smart women,” Joyce says. “My mom was recruited in her 60s to go to Houston and help manage property for the Harris County hospital system. She moved from the small community where she had lived for more than 40 years to one of the largest cities in America where she tracked all the equipment at four hospitals and more than 20 clinics. Think about that. All the equipment. IV poles. Hospital beds. Multi-million dollar machines. All of it. That’s incredible to me.”
Joyce’s dad had some pretty impressive strengths as well.
“My dad is one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known,” Joyce says. “He can build anything. When I was growing up, he’d go down to the junkyard and just find whatever he needed. He built a tricycle motorcycle that way. He renovated a school bus into an RV before that was a thing. He was also a serial entrepreneur. It was never boring at our house. Never.”
In addition to passing down genes loaded with determination and smarts, Joyce’s parents, who‘ve been married 57 years and now live in Aiken again, gave her the gift of extended family. It’s a gift she absolutely treasures – and family has always been a huge part of her life.
“My mom is one of 11 kids and my dad is the oldest of three, like me,” she says. “I have more than 30 first cousins, just on my mom’s side. So yes, I have a lot of family. And I consider that such a huge blessing.”
Growing up, Joyce was a good student, but says she was often bored. In fifth grade, a teacher told her she should be a writer so, as a teen, she got involved with the school paper.
“I did everything,” Joyce recalls. “I wrote, I took pictures, I laid out spreads. I developed photos in the darkroom. If it was part of the process of putting out a paper, I did it at some point.”
As we now know, she was learning the craft that would become her lifelong career – and learning how important community and mentorship could be. The couple who owned her hometown paper, The Jefferson Reporter, helped her lay out copy on many Sundays. The couple’s brother, a writer for the Ft. Gordon paper, taught her how to draft features and report stories.
“A lot of people poured into me along the way,” Joyce says. “And I was a sponge. I loved community journalism from the moment I learned it existed.”
“I had this extraordinary English and journalism teacher for six straight years, from 7th to 12th grade. Some years I had her for two classes a day. She is a second Mom. If you see me sweating details, it’s because of Carolyn Zeigler. We didn’t call it that back then, but that’s what it was: telling stories about the community. Giving people the news they needed. Connecting folks with each other and with what was happening around them.”
She loved it so much, in fact, that she became the editor of that hometown paper – while still a senior in high school!
“As her sister, my job is supposed to be to tell people the dumb, embarrassing stuff she did as a kid,” says Sharon Johnson. “But there’s nothing to tell. She’s always been incredibly responsible and she has the most incredible work ethic I’ve ever seen. Failure simply isn’t an option for her. It never has been.”
“I love my sister but she’s delirious. I dropped out of college, left scholarships on the table, to marry a handsome flyboy. It was an adventure and we had two awesome kids, but was it responsible? Hmmmm.”
After high school, Joyce toyed with college, but says she just didn’t have the patience. She wanted to be working and work she did. She also married, moved, and started a family of her own.
“Joyce and I met in Blytheville, Arkansas, in the early 1980s,” says longtime friend Carla Waters. “Our significant others were on the same alert force flying B-52s. We were just children, really – Joyce was 19 and I wasn’t much older. But I still remember being surprised to find she was younger than me and thinking, ‘she is the most mature teenager I’ve ever met!’ It’s no surprise to me that she’s done the incredible things she’s done. I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone who knows her well.”
At 25, she moved back to Georgia with her husband and two year-old son. Another son was born and then she did something few twenty-somethings take on: she bought the business she’d worked for as a teen.
“When I say ‘I bought a paper at 27,’ it’s important to note that I had help,” she points out. “I couldn’t have done it without a combination of owner financing and a community banker who believed in me and wanted to see the paper stay locally owned. The community was behind me – and so was my family – and that made all the difference.”
Joyce never forgot her debt to the commuity. And she never forgot that her paper, founded in 1905, was an important part of the local history.
“Back then, especially in a small town, newspapers were incredibly important,” she says. “There was no internet, no social media. The paper was a fixture in people’s lives.”
Two years later, she had the opportunity to make an even bigger impact when The News & Farmer, which covered nearby Louisville and was the oldest continuously-published weekly in the state, came up for sale.
“It was sort of an act of diplomacy to buy both papers,” she explains. “I was serving two very different communities, but I could see how much good it could do to connect them – and I think it did.”
Expanding her operation meant Joyce’s already busy days got even more hectic. The News & Farmer came with a building and a press, which made Joyce’s job both easier and more complicated.
“Scrappy. That’s what we were back in those days,” she says. “We had to be scrappy to make it work and that’s what we did.”
Her family, while proud, wasn’t surprised by her success.
“She was always exceptional,” says uncle David Irwin, who became Joyce’s sales manager back then. “We all saw so much potential in her, even when she was very young. If she sets her mind to something, she’s going to do it. She’s always been that way.”
By the time the paper was running the way she wanted, Joyce had gotten good at being scrappy. Divorced in her early thirties, she was a single mom with a mortgage and a newspaper to put out every week. But even then, family came first.
“ICYMI: This is not a story of unbroken success. It’s a story of moving forward through mistakes and some heartbreaking rubble. Eventually, the sun comes out again. I promise you that it does.”
“My mom is extremely dedicated,” says son Michael. “She’s the hardest-working person I know. And yet she always made time to raise my brother and me. To be just mom. She still does.”
Sometimes, doing both meant taking the kids to work with her.
“My youngest called me a few months ago,” Joyce laughs. “He said, ‘Mom, I just realized: my childhood smells like newsprint.’”
Joyce also points out that, while she was taking care of the kids, other people were helping take care of her.
“My grandmother lived in Louisville,” she says. “She was a widow and I was divorced and we sort of took care of each other. That was a beautiful thing.”
All told, Joyce ran her paper(s) for 12 years. During that time, she grew the operation, the circulation, the sales – and started figuring out the incredible advances in technology along the way. One of those major changes was email.
“My editor was leaving to become a teacher and I spent the July 4th weekend of 1998 trying to figure out how to get at the AOL email and make it work,” she recalls. “I started fishing around and found this Christian dating site and I thought ‘huh, that’s interesting.’ I had to answer just an incredible number of questions and then it showed me a bunch of profiles. One of them jumped out at me immediately. The way he answered questions made me think we were in similar professions, and he seemed nice and funny and so I contacted him.”
That guy was Cal Beverly, owner of The Citizen, which was five years young at the time. Like Joyce, he had signed up for the site that very weekend, mostly to see what happened. What happened was instant – if unexpected – connection. Just over a year later, the pair married.
“Before we met in person, Cal asked me to send him a copy of my paper,” Joyce recalls. “He read the whole thing – every word – and then he said ‘I feel like you sent me you in the mail.’ That’s when I knew. I’ll never forget that.”
For the first year of their marriage, Cal commuted back and forth to Louisville – Joyce still had kids in school and a business to run, after all – and then Joyce and the boys moved to Peachtree City in 2000. For two more years, she ran the paper from afar.
“Local media isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle,” she explains. “And it’s a unique one. You can’t just leave. Life can get crazy, but no matter what’s falling down around your ears, the paper (or magazine) has to go out. There are moments that’s the one constant in life. And there have been moments I really needed it.”
In early 2001, Joyce went to work part-time as the sales manager for The Citizen.
“It was supposed to be temporary,” she laughs, “but I just finally gave that job up last year so I could focus on other things.”
In 2002, a nearby large media company wanted to acquire her paper. They wanted to keep the operation local and retain the local flavor that made it such a household staple in the area. As part of the deal, however, she spent more than a year transitioning and also helped them launch a new publication – all while working with The Citizen, adjusting to her new home city, raising her boys, spending time with her huge family, getting to know her stepkids, and so on and so on and so on.
As always happens, a new, exciting opportunity came knocking at exactly the moment she had the least bandwidth. The mother-daughter team who’d launched Fayette Woman had put out nine issues, but didn’t want to manage the more-than-full-time job of continuing. Despite her already overloaded schedule, Joyce knew right away that she did.
“I was settling into Fayette County and really loved it, and I enjoyed working with The Citizen,” Joyce says, “but I needed something of my own. I was giving up the business I’d built and lived for more than a decade, I was new in town – I just needed something for me, something that would help me find my place in the community. Fayette Publishing the group that owns The Citizen, which includes Cal – actually bought the magazine, but it has been my baby since day one.”
Fayette Woman also filled Joyce’s need to tell stories – and to tell the stories she felt mattered, in her own way.
“I’ve always been fascinated by people’s life stories,” she says, “and I’d grown increasingly interested in the lives women lead. I also didn’t enjoy most of the national magazines published for women. I’d go to the check-out aisle and there would be all these covers featuring perfect homes and perfect bodies – except, right next to the perfect waistline is a picture of this amazing cupcake with a thousand calories per bite. If you read those magazines, it’s all about what you should be doing, what you could be doing, what you’re failing to do, why you should try harder. It’s exhausting. Women don’t need people to tell them what they’re doing wrong. We know that. We tell ourselves every day. I wanted to talk about what we’re doing right. I wanted us to be inspired and empowered. I wanted it to be a monthly high-five.”
Cal, though unsure at first, quickly found that Joyce’s instinct was right.
“I didn’t know anything about magazine publishing, and she saw the possibilities far better than I did,” he admits.
“I said, “Cal, in the publishing world, this is the dress shop. Do you want us to do this, or shall I open a dress shop?”
“She has made Fayette Woman an icon on the southside of Atlanta, and has assembled a formidable team to put together every month one of the best magazines of any genre, anywhere.”Joyce’s first issue of Fayette Woman hit the stands in November of 2002. Every month since, she’s run a whole new set of stories and articles specifically planned to make women’s lives easier, more fun, and filled with more hope and happiness. Two hundred issues later, the magazine is still going strong and the folks who work on it each month have nothing but good things to say.
“I love how Joyce understands that even the smallest story has the capacity for big impact,” says Marie Thomas, who’s photographed nearly every Fayette Woman cover for the last several years – as well as dozens of other projects for Joyce’s many initiatives. “She sees stories everywhere.”
“No one at this magazine – maybe no one anywhere – works harder than Joyce,” says Fayette Woman’s Art Director Heather Ward. “And she’s incredibly innovative. She’s always up on what’s new and I always learn something from working with her.”
“’Mama Joyce’ is one of the most genuine and honest people I have met,” says Fayette Woman’s favorite makeup artist, Bridgit Crider. “She never gives up. She has made Fayette Woman a staple to follow!”
“In the publishing world, Joyce is a jack of all trades and a master of most,” says Joyce’s assistant, Michelle Brown. “She has a genuine desire to make our community thrive by highlighting our neighbors, the unsung heroes, who are working to make our world a better place.”
“Joyce has an uncanny ability to find the best and most inspiring stories from everyday ladies,” says Fayette Woman social media manager Maggie Zerkus. “She just has this way of getting people talking.”
Joyce says she’s learned some incredible life lessons by listening.
“I’ve discovered that our successes are almost always less important than what we do with failure, disappointment, and disability,” she says. “It’s those heartaches and setbacks that make us who we are. Fayette Woman is a library of resilience. Whatever challenge you’re having, we’ve done a story that you’ll relate to and be able to learn from – and it’s a story about your neighbor, too. How cool is that?”
Joyce fully intends to keep doing cool things and she’s excited about what the future holds.
“I want to finish my first book,” she says. “I want to write more, period. And I’m excited about exploring all the different ways you can tell stories. The Fayette Woman LIVE event is going to be amazing again this year and I’m having so much fun with the weekly Facebook show!”
While her career is a huge part of Joyce’s story, there’s so much more. Family is, and always has been, at the center of her life.
“I am so grateful – and proud – to be part of a blended family with love to spare,” she says. “It includes not only our children and grands but some pretty unlikely but much loved ones.
“My former husband died tragically and unexpectedly in 2000. His widow, their son, and his mother-in-law have become family. They live near my stepdaughter. Our grandson and my children’s brother are great friends. We are often all together on holidays or special occasions. By God’s grace, we have blended in extraordinary ways. Miracle is not a word I toss around carelessly. I’m calling this miraculous.”
In order for this to happen, every single person has to want it to work and be full of grace for all.” Her family is grateful for her too.
“Mom puts so much effort into everything she does,” says son Dennis Drinkwater. “Into work, yes, but also into taking care of people. Her whole life is about people.”
“Joyce is a master juggler,” says stepdaughter Laura Moore. “She successfully balances the needs of a large extended family, her group of friends, and her work. She knows someone who does or knows about or has been through virtually everything. And she’s always eager to help people, to connect them with each other.”
“She’s always been busy, but she’s always been ready and willing to stop whatever she was doing to help other people solve their problems,” says Joyce’s aunt, Becky Irwin. “She’s so smart and so determined, but also very, very gentle. She’s the most kind-hearted person you’ll ever meet.”
“She’s not just our niece,” David says. “She’s a truly special person.
She’s someone you want to be around, someone you want to spend time with. Her family calls her Joy and that’s really what she is. She’s a joy.
“I’ve given this man worms for Christmas and a dead tree for a random gift. (This is not a metaphor and I am not kidding.) He still loves me. Amazing!”
Joyce’s closest friends agree.
“Twenty minutes,” says Peggy Thomas. “That’s how far I told my husband we could move from Joyce when we were looking for a new place to live. Finding a friend who is loyal, funny, creative, crazy smart, and who provides free therapy while you walk around the lake for miles, then months, then years, is a miracle. I wasn’t about to put any obstacles in the way of our friendship.”
“People know that Joyce is incredibly smart and driven,” says Nancy Jaworski. “But she’s also very sensitive and incredibly funny. And generous. When we come in from our morning walk, she cooks for us all – eggs or oatmeal, whatever it is. She just cares for people so much and so well. She’s someone you want in your corner.”
No matter who you ask or how you ask it, people agree: Joyce Beverly is a woman of many parts.
“The words I would use to describe Joyce are: self-made, self-motivated, intuitive, visionary, perceptive, savvy, and wise,” says Carla. “She built her career from the ground up. And talk about driven! But Joyce is a dreamer too. The difference between her and most, though, is that she makes her dreams come true.”
Certainly, Fayette Woman has been a dream come true.
“I can’t thank people enough for showing up and helping, for believing in me and in the magazine,” she says. “If it weren’t for incredible team members and contributors, we wouldn’t be at 200 issues. If it weren’t for the small businesses and organizations who’ve wanted to build their brands alongside us by advertising and supporting the publication, we wouldn’t have 20 issues, let alone 200. When I took over the magazine all those years ago, I never could have imagined how generous and supportive people would be – or that we’d evolve as we have. It’s been an amazing journey and an incredible honor.”
In the first letter of her very first issue, Joyce said that she wanted to facilitate a sense of community among the women who live in Fayette. Without question, she’s done that. But she’s also touched countless individual lives in ways she never anticipated.
“Giving the magazine to the cover woman each month is the big moment,” she says. “We call it the ‘reveal’ and it’s amazing. I have so many memories of that moment. But there’s one that really stands out because it’s the moment I realized just how much difference a magazine like this could make in women’s lives. That month’s cover woman has done it all. She’s respected, competent, confident, successful. She has all these huge, huge accomplishments to her credit. She’s just a rock star, you know? But when we handed her that magazine, she fell apart just completely fell apart. All because we saw her and we recognized her. And I realized just how important validation is to all of us – and how little of it we get in our everyday lives. Then I realized that giving that validation is my job. I mean, that’s what I get to do for a living. I get to do this thing for these women that maybe no one else can or will do in the rest of their lives. How blessed am I? How incredibly blessed am I?”
Joyce has dozens of similar stories.
“I once had a woman tell me, two years after her story came out, that it had changed the way she felt about herself,” she recalls. “That’s incredible to me, but it reminded me of something Garrison Keillor said: ‘we all have the backstage view of our own lives.’ Isn’t that powerful? We see our mistakes and our shortcomings and the disarray. We don’t see the epicness. My job is to show that epicness off so everyone sees it – including the woman herself.”
Ironically, it took the sustained, collective efforts of about a dozen people to convince Joyce to be on this cover and she’ll be uncomfortable with publishing this article.
“Convincing, ha! It was blackmail. Debbie Britt threatened to unfriend me!”
She’ll be touched by the praise of her friends and family and colleagues, but she’ll worry that she’s being boastful. That she’s taking too much space and attention. That she should take a step back, edit down her epicness.
Just like every other woman.
“Joyce was valedictorian of our class, but she never tells people that,” says Sharon. “She doesn’t tell people that our hometown paper was struggling when she bought it in her 20s – and that she turned it around and made it an incredible success. She doesn’t tell people that, because of her companies and her hard work, her employees had good, local jobs that allowed them to take care of their families. She doesn’t tell people how much time she’s devoted to taking care of her family, to making sure everyone has what they need and feels cared for and special. She’s achieved so much, but you’ll never hear her brag about it. It’s just who she is.”
Many people have contributed to the magazine over the years, but Fayette Woman wouldn’t have made it to issue 200 if Joyce weren’t exactly who she is, either. And the story of her life and career and perseverance is exactly the kind of story she built Fayette Woman to highlight. The magazine is genuine because she is. It resonates with readers because she understands what it is to be a wife, a mom, a daughter, a sibling. A community member. A small business owner. A friend.
She knows what it’s like to struggle, to persevere, to fear, to laugh, to worry, to celebrate, to mourn. She can tell women’s stories so successfully because she knows what it’s like to be a woman. She isn’t Fayette Woman’s heart and soul because she publishes it. She’s its soul because she’s a Fayette Woman at heart.
“I’ve made lots of mistakes,” she always protests. “It hasn’t always been perfect. We’ve evolved and are still evolving, but there are so many things I could have done better, so much I want to do that we haven’t gotten to yet.”
But that’s all backstage noise and none of it matters.
What matters is that she gives us Joy.