Joel Fisher biography
Joel Jackson Fisher was born October 4, 1983, in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Wayne and Christine Fisher. The Fishers' itinerant lifestyle had a devastating effect on Joel, whose school records show he attended four different elementary schools before the third grade.
Elementary school counselors noted that Joel was "anxious, withdrawn and exhausted" and frequently talked about "taking care of his mother" and "helping his brother." Joel apparently viewed it as his job to keep the family functional and blamed himself for his father's absence. Despite the stress, Joel's report cards showed a solid B-plus average.
Entering Pontotoc High School, Joel found himself at a loss socially. Unlike his younger brother, Ned, Joel was painfully shy. The situation worsened when Wayne moved out for good and Christine filed for divorce. A withdrawn Joel was forced to attend school counseling sessions, and while mostly refusing to participate, mentioned that his dad "hated the entire family."
For an English assignment, Joel wrote a science-fiction story about an evil alien parasite that invaded a boy's father and then laid waste to the family and their hometown, but is finally killed by the boy himself. The story earned Joel an "A" — and another trip to the counselor's office.
Although academic work was generally easy for Joel, he was too shy to speak much. Teachers recalled he rarely raised his hand, and his report cards always remarked on his scant class participation.
Even though Joel's home life was more stable without Wayne, finances were extremely tight. He was hired by Stu Menton, the manager of the Fun Time Roll-A-Rena, for after school and weekend work. Joel spent most of those earnings helping to pay for Christine's outpatient alcohol treatment. Following rehab, Christine landed a part-time job at the Pontotoc True Value hardware store.
After Wayne left, Joel's resentment transferred to Ned, who remained in contact with his father. Christine told friends that her boys were "always at each other's throats." Joel told school counselors Ned was a "traitor" and was wasting his time on extracurricular activities when he could be working and contributing to his room and board.
The brothers' mutual animosity resulted in the only disciplinary action on Joel's school record when Ned was a freshman and Joel a junior. The two got into a violent fight in the cafeteria when Joel allegedly overheard Ned calling Christine "a whore."
Joel might have gotten into further trouble if not for Stu Menton. The roller rink manager remembers taking a liking to the shy, gentle boy, saying, "I was scared for him, in a way — he just wasn't cut out for living like the rest of us. It hurt him too much."
Stu perceived that Joel had more intelligence than his reticence showed, and asked the youngster for help planning the renovation of the rink. Stu invited Joel to meetings with contractors, introducing the teenager as "my associate," and asked him to pick machines for the new video arcade. Stu's instincts proved right — Joel kept all the paperwork organized, came up with a plan to keep the snack stand open through construction, and even helped install the video games.
Stu Menton encouraged Joel to continue his education and wrote a recommendation for Joel's application to Ole Miss, saying, "Joel has had a hard life but has great potential and a kind heart."
When Joel was accepted on scholarship, his mother apparently had mixed feelings, but Joel resisted any entreaties she might have made for him to stay in Pontotoc. He entered Ole Miss the fall of 2001, living in a solitary dorm room provided through his scholarship and taking on work-study jobs. He managed to send money home to Christine, even as he bought books second- or third-hand.
Joel reportedly remained angry at Ned, who showed no ambition to do anything but continue sponging off their mother, and by extension, Joel as well. Joel told Dan Sparks, who worked with him in the library shelving books, that Ned "was worse than our father" and "didn't deserve to live."
When Joel got an apartment his sophomore year, he severed ties with Ned, refusing to give him his new address and telling Christine to keep Ned away from him. Joel visited home only when Ned was away, and encouraged Christine to move to Oxford and leave Ned to his own devices.
At college, Joel managed for the first time to make friends with like-minded people and began dating from time to time, although never seriously. Above all, he loved his books, which throughout his life had provided escape from his stressful life.
After graduating in 2005, he continued working at the university library as a clerk while contemplating his next move. Ultimately, he decided to pursue a library science master's degree at the University of Southern Mississippi, but needed a couple of computer classes as prerequisites for the program.
While enrolled through the university extension, he met Delia Winters, manager of a local bank branch. Delia was so professional-looking that Joel would never have dreamed of approaching her, so it was lucky that she had no qualms about making the first move.
Delia and Joel began dating, and they married in a small ceremony in Oxford in 2007. Christine attended the wedding, but Wayne and Ned were not invited. Pastor Ryan Gibbons recalls discussing Joel's family with him during the premarital counseling session and Joel telling him Wayne was "dead as far as he was concerned."
Joel seemed content to put his plans for a master's degree on hold to be with Delia. Friends said Joel seemed "more relaxed and content than he'd ever been."
When the couple's first child was born in 2011, Joel was the one to quit his job and take on the role of full-time parent. Christine was overjoyed to be a grandmother, and Joel frequently took little Charlie to Pontotoc for visits. When Charlie started pre-school, Joel returned to work and also enjoyed volunteering for the local arts council, which published several of his poems in its annual newsletter.
In 2012, a shadow fell over Joel's existence when he learned, through Christine, that Wayne and Ned were in business together in Oxford. He ignored Christine's pleas to heal the rift between them, and Joel refused to tell Wayne he was a grandfather.
Joel told Delia he was certain Ned and Wayne were up to no good and vowed not to speak with them, fretting they would try to ruin his life. Delia confided to a coworker that she asked Joel to seek counseling to resolve his rage toward his father and brother, worried that her otherwise gentle and sensitive husband seemed to have so much hatred deep within him.