Joan Tozzer Cave once recalled that she started figure skating at 3 after badgering her father, a Harvard professor, to flood the backyard of their Cambridge home. By 10, she was drawing notice from the Globe for skating exhibitions that featured her impersonations of Minnie and Mickey Mouse in comedy skits.
In 1934, when she was 12, the Globe reported on a Skating Club of Boston event, noting that she “gave one of the most graceful exhibitions ever performed by a child her age before an American audience. . . . Her spins, cuts and dazzling daintiness in the initial exhibition of the evening left a lasting impression. Everything Joan did was the zenith of perfection.’’
Before quitting competitive skating at 18 to marry, Mrs. Cave was the US Ladies Figure Skating champion in 1938, 1939, and 1940, and the national pairs champion with Bernard Fox the same years. She also was part of the US Olympic Skating Team in 1940, the year the games were canceled because of World War II.
“Joan was a feisty person with a positive personality, one of the early glamorous women skaters,’’ said Benjamin Wright, board chairman and historian of The Skating Club of Boston.
Mrs. Cave, who was inducted into the US Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1997, died of heart failure April 15 in the NewBridge on the Charles senior community in Dedham. She was 90 and had lived in Westwood for 10 years, and previously in Chestnut Hill for 49 years.
Annette LaMond, who wrote a book about the Cambridge Skating Club, which she has served as president and historian, recalled one example of Mrs. Cave’s competitiveness.
“In one competition, the judge announced that she had placed second,’’ LaMond said. “A short time later, the judges discovered a mistake in their arithmetic and told Miss Tozzer she had won. Miss Tozzer is said to have replied, ‘No, I didn’t. I’ll be back next year.’ She did return and did take first place.’’
Mrs. Cave, who preferred to pronounce her name Jo Ann, was born in Boston to Alfred and Margaret (Castle) Tozzer and graduated from the private Brimmer and May School in Chestnut Hill in 1939.
She set aside competition at 18 to marry Philip Spalding Jr. and move with him to Hawaii, where her grandparents had been missionaries. Mrs. Cave’s children said that once she started a family, she limited her skating mainly to teaching them, her grandchildren, and other children. After skating, Mrs. Cave focused on raising six children and doing philanthropic work in Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. She lived in Hawaii for more than a decade, and when her marriage ended in divorce, she returned to Greater Boston.
In 1952, she married William Ames Lincoln, raising her children in Chestnut Hill. He died in 1969.
She married Dr. Edwin Cave, an orthopedic surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital. He died in 1976.
Mrs. Cave served on the boards of many of the beneficiaries of her philanthropy. At Brigham and Women’s Hospital, she was a trustee emeritus and worked with its legacy society, which recognizes those who support the hospital through bequests or planned gifts. She also worked with Massachusetts General Hospital, the Museum of Science, Boston, and several private schools.
“What stands out most in my mother is her generosity, her interest and curiosity in everyone’s life, her ability in helping where you could,’’ said her daughter Joan Spalding of Longboat Key, Fla. “There are many examples where she bought cars for people who needed them to get around and educated children, other than her own. She believed in education and made sure that all her children and grandchildren received the best.’’
Her daughter added that Mrs. Cave “would use any connection she had to get someone’s needs met, whether this was connecting them to a doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital or Massachusetts General Hospital or to a skating coach at The Skating Club of Boston, to an internship, or job. To quote a condolence letter, ‘She was always a brighter than the sun person, full of spunk and joy. She had a spirit that was all throttle, and she was infinitely kind.’ ’’
Mrs. Cave’s son William Lincoln of Newburyport said his mother “was wonderfully generous, funny, and irreverent. Her storytelling entertained and enthralled all, opening everyone to the fullness of her life. One of the biggest lessons she taught us was not to pity yourself. She had had some hardships, herself.’’
Many admired Mrs. Cave’s outspokenness, especially on behalf of hospital patients or for a cause. “Joan could be incredibly patient, but would also speak her mind,’’ said Dr. Thomas Thornhill, a physician at Brigham and Women’s. “She would tell you what was on her mind and do it in a gracious way.’’
Dr. Marshall Wolf, also a physician at Brigham and Women’s, said Mrs. Cave generously supported medical education and research funds and persuaded friends to contribute.
“Joan was a bright, funny, and charming person, who wanted to make the world a better place,’’ he said. “Everyone who knew her loved her. At the end of her life, Joan felt she wasn’t doing enough. ‘I’m just occupying space and no longer making a difference,’ she told me.’’
Wolf reassured Mrs. Cave that she still was making a difference.
In addition to her daughter Joan and son William, Mrs. Cave leaves two other sons, Philip Spalding III of Honolulu and A. Tozzer Spalding of Tucson, Ariz.; two other daughters, Anne Mock of Longboat Key, Fla., and Susan Driscoll of North Oaks, Minn.; 14 grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren.
A memorial service to celebrate her life will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday in Dexter School in Brookline.
In February, Mrs. Cave attended the 100th anniversary celebration of The Skating Club of Boston.
“When I was 11, I won the Joan Tozzer Award for being the child who most improved in skating that year,’’ said Dr. Tenley Albright, who attended. Albright, who was inducted into the US Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1976, is now a Boston physician.
At the celebration, Albright said, “Joan was just as spunky as ever with her wonderful sense of humor, and loving every minute.’’