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An Ode to Joy: A Baylor Icon

WACO, Texas (July 18, 2022) – Baylor University bear Judge Joy Reynolds, known simply as “Joy,” beloved sister of Judge Sue “Lady” Sloan and a cherished member of the Baylor Family for 21 years, passed away peacefully today surrounded by her loving and dedicated caregivers, staff and veterinary team. - Baylor Press Release

For most, “The Baylor Bears” is a phrase often heard as an accompaniment to the pageantry of Saturday afternoon on the Brazos or at the commencement of a new wave of Baylor alumni. For some of us, the phrase carries a much more resolute meaning: Joy and Lady.

Those outside of the Baylor community may not fully comprehend just what our beloved bears mean to us students and alumni, although I imagine admirers of other instructions with cherished mascots can relate. Whether your first or hundredth, a trip to the Baylor campus feels incomplete without a trip down 5th street to walk through the bear habitat. A passerby is far more likely to find the mascot-adorned, cobbled path bustling with an excited assemblage hoping to catch a glimpse of Joy and her sister, than they would be to find it empty.

For the last twenty years, Joy has been part of an unassuming backdrop to an untold number of memories. One Saturday it’s a little one, in a green and gold jumper, holding on to her parents’ fingers as she toddles towards the big glass windows before heading to her first football game. That evening it’s the young man awkwardly asking the young lady he met last week in chapel if she wants to stop and see the bears as a way to steal five more minutes before he drops her off at Collins. Monday morning it’s a gaggle of school children milling about as their teacher does all she can to corral them, eager to see a bear as big as a grown man up close and personal. I would bet you too have a moment or two that involves the bears that you remember affectionately.

I expect much of Baylor Nation cherishes a photo similar to this one of my father, Darren (BA ‘86), and me.

During my time at Baylor, I was a fortunate to serve as a member of the Bear Program and best friend to “the Girls” (as we called them). Like many of my fellow members of the Baylor community, some of my fondest memories, longest nights, and earliest mornings were side by side with Joy and Lady. However, unlike those same folks, I got to know Joy on a level that I wish more could have experienced. Both because it’s a necessity to build mutual trust with an animal that can look you eye-to-eye and weighs 270+ pounds, and because she was a superb companion.

Those that spent any amount of time around Joy would be quick to tell you, she was as sharp as a tack. It took her no time to unscrew the lid on a jar of peanut butter, or to check if you locked her gates. When training different behaviors and skills, she would often try to anticipate what command you were planning to give next in hopes of stealing an easy chunk of pineapple or an apricot.

She was moody and stubborn, but in an endearing way—like a housecat. If she was not onboard with the day’s plan to spend several hours at the off-campus enrichment area, she would go along but rest assured, she wasn’t going to be happy about it. While her inquisitive sister would roam the acreage foraging for strategically hidden berries and nuts, Joy would find a satisfactory spot near the gate to settle down and would remain there for the duration of the exercise.

More than anything, outside of maybe Robert Griffin III, Joy was Baylor’s most steadfast ambassador. She played host to important guests of the university, athletes, and media outlets alike (Just ask Scott Drew about much of a crowd favorite and how endearing Joy could be). In my short few years, she was front and center to a Gene Wojciechowski piece for ESPN, a Nickelodeon short, and several Fox Sports spots, among others.

Joy, as will Lady, lived almost all of her life as an iconic Baylor Bear. By my back-of-the-napkin math, around half of the students on campus today were not yet born the last time a mascot not named Joy ruled the banks of Waco Creek. Over those couple decades, Joy saw four university presidents, the school’s promotion to Research 1 status and its endowment triple in value, a Heisman trophy, three Women’s Basketball National Titles, a Men’s Basketball National Title, as well as numerous other fantastic accomplishments and improvements.

Even now, after I have been away from campus for twice as many years I was there, those Baylor Bears find a way to work into new memories. Like a late night conversation with old friends recounting, with pride and fondness, the messes scooped and pools scrubbed. All of the freezing mornings, holidays spent away from family, tufts of fur collected, and days in the Texas summer heat were worth it. To be part of a team that cared for such a bastion of Baylor was nothing short of an honor.

Sic Em, Joy. Go Bears.


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