Joseph Short

There can be few Quakers whose background and work experience gave him a greater insight into, and appreciation for, the world of Nature than Joe Short. The Testimony to his life includes the following passage.

His approach to life was a spiritual one; everything fitted together and was seen as a part of the integrated wholeness of life. Trees, plants and all living things concerned him, and he felt himself and all of us linked to natural growth and development.

Joe was born in 1916 and brought up on a Taranaki dairy farm where he helped his mother in the large garden while his elder brothers worked the farm. After school he was apprenticed to Duncan and Davies Nursery in New Plymouth and at the age of 20 went on a student exchange to Kew Gardens and from there to a student exchange arrangement Kew had with the State Botanical Gardens of Berlin, where he worked until the outbreak of war. It was in Berlin that his language teacher introduced Joe to Quakers (he was from a Presbyterian family) when he revealed his feelings for pacifism. Joe joined a Quaker centre in Berlin where an English couple were supporting the German Quakers and helping Jewish people to flee.

On his return to England Joe spoke to Friends Service Council personnel about his wish to work in India for he had been inspired by two Quaker women who had recently been visiting Gandhi. After some time at Woodbrooke where he met his future wife Phyllis, who was also called to do Quakers’ work overseas, he left for India, to be joined by Phyll on completion of her teacher training. In West Bengal at the ashram of the poet Rabindranath Tagore there was an Indian cultural centre and model farm with plant nursery and dairy which Joe was appointed to run.

After furlough back in England at war’s end Joe returned to run the horticultural nursery at the Agricultural Institute at Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh where he was able to impart his knowledge and experience to students from all over India. Phyll also was able to teach Domestic Science part time, with two small sons in tow.

By 1953, when decisions about the schooling for the family of four had to be taken, the Shorts arrived in New Zealand where Joe, after working in the Parnell Rose garden in Auckland for several years, was appointed in 1960 to a position in the Botany Department of Victoria University in Wellington where Phyll joined the staff of the Correspondence School.

Never having had time to develop his own garden during his working years, Joe’s plan on retirement was to buy land for his own nursery, but sadly death intervened in 1982. However he is remembered for the many gardens throughout Wellington for which he had been responsible, such as the Rose Garden of Wellington of which he was President. We remember him too when we walk in the Peace Garden at the Settlement for he was the one who initiated this project.

Joe’s horticultural work in four countries gave him a wide understanding of different problems in land use and the methods of combating them, knowledge which he was able to pass on to his many pupils over the years in India. Later his students at Victoria would have benefited from his teaching, enlivened as it was by his appreciation of the glories of the natural world. A scientist who inspires others through his own enthusiasm is a priceless gift to society and Joe’s students were greatly privileged. This quality, of being able to pass on his own excitement, was never more obvious than when he took groups out into the bush on memorable excursions during Summer Gatherings. He is remembered with great affection and respect.

Joe and Phyll’s four children have all followed their parents into caring professions; Michael in medicine, Murray in the administration of justice, Annabel in social work and Jan in family therapy.