Joy Moore: Wes Moore’s Inspirational Mother

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Who is Joy Moore from The Other Wes Moore? How did she contribute to Wes Moore’s success?

Joy Moore, Wes Moore’s mother, is the major reason for all of his success. Joy worked multiple jobs to put her children through private school and sent Wes Moore to an expensive military school when he needed discipline.

Read on to learn more about the life of Joy Moore.

The Importance of Joy Moore in The Other Wes Moore

Joy Thomas was born in a tiny parish called Trelawny in Jamaica. At the age of three, her parents moved the family to one of the roughest boroughs in New York City, the Bronx. 

When Joy started college at American University in 1968, the country was in upheaval with the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War. Joy struggled to find the balance between the America that helped her family find better opportunities and the America that made them second-class citizens. 

She found solace in the Organization of African and African-American Students at the American University, helping to organize and mobilize black students to join the conversations relating to injustice. Another member of the group, Bill, was two years older than Joy. They met and immediately fell in love. They were engaged after only two months and married two years later. 

Joy’s dream of a wonderful life with Bill soon turned into a nightmare. She began to see that Bill’s free spirit and fierce rebellion—qualities that excited her in the early days—were not the best qualities for a husband. His dabbling in drugs turned into a full-blown addiction, and Joy desperately wanted to help Bill get through it. She put her energy into making a life that would satisfy Bill, including having a child. But Bill’s addictions to drugs and alcohol grew worse. He became physically, emotionally, and mentally abusive. 

The final straw was the night Bill came home and assaulted Joy over dirty dishes. He threw Joy on the ground and began to punch her. Joy had had enough. She grabbed a knife from the butcher’s block and threatened that if he ever laid a hand on her again, she’d kill him. A month later, she and her daughter, Nikki, moved out. 

The Right Man

Westley Moore was an intelligent, hardworking man with big dreams. From a young age, he dreamed of working in television as an influential reporter. His voice was deep and resounding, and he was socially conscious. After he graduated from Bard College in 1971, he traveled the country working as a reporter. Eventually, he made his way back home to Maryland and started hosting a public affairs show. He sought the services of a writing assistant and hired a young woman who would become his wife. 

Joy thought Westley Moore was everything Bill wasn’t. Westley was smart, driven, patient, kind, and sober. Best of all, he loved Nikki as though she were his own. They were married, and two years later, Joy Moore gave birth to Wes Moore. 

A Death in the Family

On April 15, 1982, Westley Moore felt sick. He tossed and turned that evening with a sore throat and fever.

The next morning, Westley drove himself to the hospital. He was weak, disoriented, and had trouble holding his head up. The doctors assumed he was overreacting and diagnosed him with a sore throat and lack of sleep. They merely gave him an anesthetic for the throat pain and questioned Joy about his mental state. The doctors sent Westley home to sleep it off. 

Less than two hours later, at 6 p.m., Wes Moore heard his father collapse on the stairs. He saw his father convulsing on the floor, gasping for air, his hands on his throat.

An ambulance arrived and took Westley to the ER. But it was too late. Westley was pronounced dead shortly after arriving to the ER. He’d died from a rare condition called acute epiglottitis, a virus that attacks the epiglottis and causes it to enlarge over the airways to the lungs. The condition is treatable, but without treatment, the patient suffocates to death. 

The tragedy of Westley’s death is in the mishandling of his case by the previous doctors. He’d come in seeking help, but he was unkempt and from a poor neighborhood. The doctors had written him off. If they’d seen a man deserving of care, they could have saved his life. 

Joy Moore struggled to keep life going for her family. She was haunted by all of the things she could have done and should have done to save her husband’s life. 

Joy took legal actions against the hospital, settling out of court to avoid years of legal proceedings. With the money, she created a foundation to help train paramedics to save others afflicted with the virus that killed Westley. His life could have been saved by a few easy procedures, but the first responders didn’t have the knowledge. 

Still, her grief was too immense, and she realized she needed help. She packed up her home and children and moved them to the Bronx to live with her parents. 

Joy Moore: Wes Moore’s Savior

Joy Moore was going to see to it that her children didn’t become casualties of the streets. Joy would make sure her children were given every opportunity to make something good of their lives. For Moore and his sister Shani, that meant private school.

Joy had heard of Riverdale Country School as a young girl. The stories made it seem like a fantasy school—a sort of non-magic Hogwarts for wealthy kids. The school sat on a lush acreage along the Hudson River and boasted prestigious alumni, such as John F. Kennedy. 

Joy worked multiple jobs to make sure her children had the best education. However, one day the dean of Riverdale phoned the house one night with news of Moore’s academic and disciplinary probation. His grades were poor, his attendance was worse, and there’d been an incident with a smoke bomb at school. Joy listened to all of it with a stoic face. 

After learning about Valley Forge Military Academy, Joy took her desire to enroll Moore to her parents. They all agreed it was the best chance they had to save the boy.

However, Valley Forge was even more expensive than Riverdale, and the family didn’t know how to afford it. Joy reached out to a network of family and friends, explaining the situation and asking for any help they could provide. Likewise, Moore’s grandparents searched for ways to gather the money. 


For most of their lives, Joy’s parents had invested their earnings into their house. The plan had been to cash out and use the money to retire back in Jamaica. But with that plan no longer on the table, Moore’s grandparents decided to take the equity out of the home and used it to pay for the first year’s tuition at Valley Forge.

If it weren’t for Joy Moore, Wes Moore’s mother, then Moore could have ended up in prison like the Other Wes Moore in his book. It was thanks to Joy’s selfless acts for her children that Wes Moore escaped a different fate.

Joy Moore: Wes Moore’s Inspirational Mother

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Wes Moore's "The Other Wes Moore" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Other Wes Moore summary:

  • How two men from similar communities can have vastly different lives
  • What led one Wes Moore to become a Rhodes Scholar
  • What led the other Wes Moore to a life sentence

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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