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Obituary (VA): Mrs. Joan (Thomas R. Eckert '61)

Posted on 05/16/2018

Joan Gatti Eckert, 78, died on Mother's Day, May 13, 2018.

Born on October 13, 1939, Joan was the daughter of the late John and Antoinette (nee Christiano) Gatti of Hackensack, N.J. She grew up a Hackensack girl, attending Hackensack High School and then becoming the first in her family to attend college, graduating from Goucher College in Baltimore, MD. She had followed her high school sweetheart and River Edge "boy" to Maryland, as he went off to the Naval Academy in Annapolis. On June 18, 1961, Joan married her high school sweetheart, Thomas (Tom) R. Eckert, in a ceremony capped by the Naval Arch of Swords.

After many years as a submariner's wife and mother to three daughters, Joan settled in Virginia Beach in 1970 and a few years later started teaching at Baylake Pines School.

The highlight of her educational career was, however, the purchase of Baylake Pines School, her heart and soul and life's work. When Joan and her husband purchased the school in 1978 from the founders, Elmer and Margaret Bosserman, there was never a doubt that her passion was in education and, ultimately, children. She carried her love for the students, teachers and staff daily in all that she did. In fact, when her husband was stationed in Charleston, SC, they had a commuting marriage in order to keep the business in Virginia Beach.

Joan is survived by her husband of 57 years, as well as her three daughters: Kimberly Failon (Brian), Susan Noaksson, and, Elizabeth Sorrell (Bryan). She was predeceased by her eldest sister, Joyce Dizenzo (Bob), and her brother-in-law, Thomas Stearns. She was lovingly cared for in her final days by her youngest sister, Beatrice Gatti Stearns. Joan adored her nephews whom she called the sons she never had: Thomas Stearns (Michelle) and Marc Stearns (Marsina). She loved her brother-in-laws and their families: Carl Eckert (Pat) of Bay Head, NJ and George Eckert (Jan) of Natick, MA. However, she reveled in her role of grandmother to her 7 beautiful grandchildren: Kathryn (L.A.), Caroline and Nicholas Failon (Richmond); Erik and Alexis Noaksson (Virginia Beach), Ethan and Austin Sorrell (Virginia Beach).

Joan will always be remembered for her amazing generosity and zest for birthdays and holidays, particularly Christmas and Easter. She was known to show up at the Christmas tree lot the day after Thanksgiving every year to select the largest tree on the lot, which oftentimes would already be on reserve for her. That tree then would inevitably take the next week (and several helping hands) to decorate but was always spectacular. It would never surprise her family if she exclaimed on the tree's completion, "The tree isn't big enough." Her family members would roll their eyes knowing that to get one bigger would mean to cut a hole in the ceiling.

While there is a hole in our hearts with her passing, her legacy will live on in the countless lives that she touched and transformed at Baylake Pines School, in the community of Hampton Roads who benefitted from her philanthropic spirit and educational acumen, and in a family that adored her.

Family will receive visitors on Friday, May 18, at Hollomon-Brown Funeral Home, Bayside Chapel from 6:00 PM 9:00 PM. A celebratory service of Joan's life will be held beginning at 10:00 AM on Saturday, May 19, at Hollomon-Brown, Bayside Chapel, 1457 Independence Blvd, Virginia Beach. In lieu of flowers, donations may be given to the Scleroderma Foundation online at or to a charity of your choice benefitting children. Condolences may be offered to the family at

Published in The Virginian Pilot on May 16, 2018