Joyce Fisher Laux and Janet Fisher Sleppy at 1966 graduation
Janet Sleppy and Joyce Laux (DIPLO '66) at their UVA graduation. They were among the 28 nursing students who traveled to NYC to be on the hit TV show 'I Have a Secret' in 1964.

The weekly CBS game show “I’ve Got a Secret,” which debuted in the summer of 1952, involved a panel of celebrities who attempted to determine a contestant’s secret: usually something funny, amazing, or unusual. It was spring 1964 when then nursing student Thomas Watters (DIPLO ’66) wrote to the show’s producers to pitch himself as a contestant.

His secret? He was studying nursing.

“We were so blessed and so well prepared. I spent 35 years on my feet, and oh, my bunions, but I have so many wonderful memories.”

Joyce Fisher Laux, 1966 Diploma graduate

According to a 1999 article in Virginia Nursing Legacy magazine, Watters and 28 of his nursing classmates were excused from two days of class and then bussed the six hours to New York City to take part. Once they arrived at CBS headquarters, they were fed sandwiches, Cokes, and cues in a basement green room before heading upstairs and on stage of the live show before a panel of celebrities, which included then-host Steve Allen (co-creator and first host of “The Tonight Show”).

“When it came time to go on,” Watters told the VNL, “the girls were all standing behind me” and the judges had to guess what Watters’s secret was. They peppered him with questions. A choir director, perhaps? They never guessed Watters’s secret, and the group got sent home with cash—and a fantastic memory.

Joyce Fisher Laux and her twin sister Janet Fisher Sleppy (DIPLO ’66), who grew up in Hampton, Va., were there. Recalled Laux of that experience, and nursing school more broadly, “What a wonderful time in our lives.”

Laux, now 77, enjoyed a long nursing career, first working as a medical-surgical, ICU, NICU, and labor and delivery nurse at hospitals in Florida, North Carolina, and Texas before becoming a nursing home director, and ultimately a school nurse at Haggar Elementary in Plano, Tx., a role she kept for 22 years. She married Peter Laux in 1966, a UVA psychology major and U.S. Marine whom she’d met at UVA Hospital where he worked as an orderly, just three months after earning her nursing degree. The couple settled with him in Plano, eventually having two daughters, both of whom went on to become teachers.

After earning a nursing degree from UVA, Watters, a Navy corpsman, entered the Army where he trained as an anesthesia specialist. In a 1999 interview, Watters said, “I’ve been giving anesthesia since 1971. I was an OR nurse in Vietnam. I think in the Army there are a lot more males in nursing. So we really didn’t face some of the stereotyping that others might have.” Watters's nursing legacy lived on in his son, Chris, who also became a nurse anesthetist.

Sleppy, who died in July 2023 at age 77, worked as an operating room nurse in Hampton General Hospital and Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, Md., before moving to Georgia in the early 1980s. There, she was head nurse and manager of an Atlanta allergy clinic until her retirement in 2000. The sisters, always close, enjoyed two trips to Jerusalem in 2014 and 2018 together and attended their 50th UVA reunion together in 2016.

Laux described her sister as “the glue that held everybody together,” and called their nursing education at UVA “a wonderful time in our lives.”

“We were so blessed and so well prepared,” she said. “I spent 35 years on my feet, and oh, my bunions, but I have so many wonderful memories.”


Today’s #FlashbackFriday brought to you by the Bjoring Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry. Special thanks and gratitude to Laux and her late sister Sleppy for sharing their stories and photos. Additional sourcing from the Virginia Nursing Legacy magazine article, "Confessions of a Male Nurse," Winter 1999-2000.