Laurey Masterton '76 not only has a personal motto, but she often has to look no further than the car bumper in front of her to see it. Ten years ago she trademarked the slogan "Don't Postpone Joy," and since then it has spread far and wide, borne by bumper stickers, T-shirts, articles and everyday conversations. It is not, however, an insight she came by easily.
Masterton is a cancer survivor—she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer more than 20 years ago. And even more life-changing, perhaps, is the fact that both her parents died, of cancer, when she was 12. That tragic loss led to a nomadic adolescence, as she moved from household to household. It also put an end to the future she'd envisioned for herself since childhood: someday taking over the family's Vermont country inn, Blueberry Hill, where she'd learned to cook in the kitchen at her mother's side.
After earning a degree in theater at UNH, Masterton studied theatrical lighting design in New York and started working in the field. Ten years later, she moved to Asheville, N.C., to design and teach classes for cancer survivors. But soon she began dreaming about working with food. She took the leap in 1987 and founded a catering company out of her kitchen. Three years later she moved her business to downtown Asheville, expanding to include Laurey's Gourmet Comfort Food, a sunny 50-seat cafe.
There is a certain joie de vivre that permeates all of Masterton's endeavors, from her Twitter account, @laureysyum, to the cookbook and memoir she wrote in honor of her mother, Elsie's Biscuits. She also seems to have boundless energy and innumerable ways to put it to use. Two years ago she set out to bike across the country to raise money for ovarian cancer research. She dipped her rear bike tire in the Pacific and some 3,100 miles and 48 days later dipped her front tire in the Atlantic.
Last summer, Masterton joined Michele Obama and 700 other chefs on the White House lawn to launch the "Chefs Move to Schools" project, as part of the national "Let's Move" campaign to end obesity in children. When Masterton works with children, she often begins by giving them a taste of honey and describing the vital role played by bees in food production. Her interest in beekeeping is a relatively new passion, and one that seems to encapsulate her motto. "So pretty much everything in my whole life changed when I started killing bees," she announces at the beginning of an inspirational talk she gave last summer in Asheville, now available on YouTube. She's referring to two summers when she cavalierly stuck a bee hive out back—and found a hive full of dead bees at the end of the year. It was only when she moved the hives front and center, of her yard and her life, that she was able to give them proper care and reap the intangible rewards of beekeeping, which have given her "enormous joy."
Masterton has concluded that the life for her is not that of the queen—who never sees the light of day—nor the drone, but the worker bee, who has many different experiences and works all her life to create one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey. At the end of the video she expresses hope that her front-yard bees will make it through the winter. This spring she announced in her online newsletter that for the first time, many of her worker bees had survived. "In no time at all," she adds, "my yard will once again be filled with bees."