When we think of Joan Lunden, we no doubt think of her as the longtime host of “Good Morning America” — the longest-running host on early morning TV; as a spokeswoman for A Place for Mom, the nation’s leading senior referral service; and as an advocate for those who, like herself, have had breast cancer. (Joan will be the featured speaker for the Breast Cancer Alliance’s 20th anniversary celebration April 9 at Greenwich Country Club.)
But there’s another title she wears just as happily, along with wife and mother, and that is homemaker — one who blends breezy stylishness with a passion for preparation to create havens for her large family in Greenwich; Naples, Maine; and West Palm Beach, Fla.
“Women are the ones who make a house a home,” she says. “I relish the opportunity to decorate…. It’s fun when it all comes together.”
Joan is talking from her new home in West Palm Beach where she’s in the midst of that very process. She and husband Jeff Konigsberg, who owns two summer camps for children in Maine, had a house in Palm Beach. But with two sets of boy-girl twins, 12 and 10; Joan’s three grown daughters and two grandchildren; and Jeff’s extended family — well, she says, it was time for a bigger place where they can all gather.
“We’re not formal people so I try to create a casual, elegant atmosphere,” she says.
Joan leans toward natural tones, rich creams and beiges to suggest comfort and serenity.
“I spent so much of my time on the road,” says the woman who for nearly two decades as a “GMA” host reported from 26 countries and covered five presidents and as many Olympics. “I’m still on the road doing 40 speaking engagements a year…. For me, living my life in the public, my home is my sanctuary.”
In the West Palm Beach house, Joan uses accents of coral and turquoise to create that “Tommy Bahama, Caribbean feel.”
“You get the sense of slowing down and putting your feet up,” she says.
The lakeside Maine house has a different vibe, with tiles that mimic wood and motifs of moose, bears and canoes, while the Greenwich house illustrates how Joan has gotten “more adventurous” in the last 10 years — painting her home office red.
But it’s not just an attunement to interior design that reflects the Hestia — Greek goddess of the hearth — in Joan. It’s a sense of discipline, organization and preparedness that enables her to fly in from a speaking engagement and entertain 40 the next night. The pantries are stocked not only with food but with decorations for every holiday from Hanukkah to Valentine’s Day. There’s even a drawer with files of cards for all occasions. And you may spy Joan in Pier 1 Imports, Crate&Barrel and Toys”R”Us purchasing not only decorative items but gifts that she can wrap and store.
“Chance,” Louis Pasteur said, “favors the prepared mind.” So apparently does happiness.
“That’s a way for me to remove the pressure points,” she says of her passion for organization. “It’s the only way for me to live life in a state of happy.”
Joan brings to that life not only discipline but enormous energy — qualities that no doubt have stood her in good stead through challenging times. One led her to become a spokeswoman for A Place for Mom, which was founded 15 years ago to help mom — and dad and other relatives — find the best senior housing options for themselves. This was something Joan struggled with after her brother died at age 51 from complications of diabetes and her mother needed care.
As with many who become caregivers for the elderly, Joan cycled through shock, denial and the fits and starts of navigating the complex world of geriatrics.
“I was finding a place for the mom of 10 years ago, not the mom of today,” she says. It wasn’t until she talked to a senior adviser with A Place for Mom, who assessed her mother, that she found the right place — a small residential home with around-the-clock care. Joan’s mother was there until the end of her life at almost age 95. And her daughter can be seen regularly on A Place for Mom commercials as well as its website.
It’s not the only challenge Joan has faced in recent years. In June of 2014, she was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, which does not respond to conventional treatments.
“You hear those words ‘You have cancer,’ and there’s no way that you are not overwhelmed and shocked,” she says. “There was no history of it in my family. My father was a cancer surgeon. And health was my beat on ‘Good Morning America.’ The core of my work was to help people make better decisions.”
Now Joan was the one in need of help.
“I didn’t say, ‘Why me?’ But I thought, ‘Here I am a health advocate. How am I going to face everyone? I’ve let them down.’”
That night, she thought about her father, who was also a pilot. He was coming back to the family home in Sacramento from Los Angeles when his plane crashed and he was killed.
“And I thought about the odd opportunity I had been given to continue his work. I can go on as a health advocate.”
In that instant, Joan says, her cancer journey changed from a focus on herself to how she could use it to serve others. It has taken her to ALIVE With Joan, an online channel dedicated to people living with and surviving breast cancer, and her book “Had I Known,” which charts her battle with the disease while offering reflections on her life and career.
Joan endured 16 rounds of very aggressive chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation to shrink her two tumors before having a lumpectomy. It’s been about a year since her last treatment.
She lost all her hair and posed bald and beautiful on the Oct. 6, 2014 cover of People. When her hair grew back, it was curly, as it often is post-chemo.
Today, the old “Joan bob” is gone and in its place is a super-short cut that flatters her lovely bone structure.
“You roll with it,” Joan says. “It’s another thing you go through. Another chapter.”
Joan Lunden will be the featured speaker as the Breast Cancer Alliance celebrates 20 years of accomplishments and survivorship 7 p.m. April 9 at Greenwich Country Club. Paula and Robert G. Burton Sr. and Richards/The Mitchell Family will be honored for their contributions to an organization that has raised more than $21 million for research, fellowships, education and outreach, and screenings for the underserved.
“Joan has a powerful message to share about breast cancer survivorship,” says BCA Executive Director Yonni Wattenmaker.
Tickets are $500. For more, visit weblink.donorperfect.com/20years.