He would have been 100 today, although he always joked that had he been born a few hours later that leap year in 1920 he would only have reached 24. What changes he saw, what strife and disaster and what joy!
His father, Samuel, survived trench warfare as a cavalryman in the Great War and when Joe decided to volunteer to fight in the Second World War, Samuel merely said something like ‘Do what you want, son.’ I have often wondered whether he had tried to talk Joe out of going to war.
After all the horrors Joe must have seen, and the close friends he had lost, perhaps it is understandable that he was able to settle into a quiet predictable suburban life in Surrey. There he could enjoy his family, cycling to work and inspiring young pupils to take pride in sport and grow from teamwork and fair play.
He loved books – perhaps kindled by his father’s interest in words itself fostered by his work at the Belfast Telegraph. Joe was a voracious reader and even during the war had the reputation for always having a book with him. Often I think this was a New Testament, which he loved as much for the Jamesian language as the religious content.
He was fascinated by the richness of the English language and was especially enthusiastic about words like nevertheless, hitherto and thusfar.
He compiled an Ulster dialect dictionary in the days before computers, and then with characteristic generosity sent it to a journalist in Belfast who was also working on one.
Joe was my inspiration when I was struggling to write my first book. I made the mistake a lot of new writers make in trying to show off all I knew as I wrote. My book was an account of expeditions to Madagascar and part of it was a romping good adventure describing being lost in 60 miles of cave passage, part of it was a dissertation on the ecology of Madagascar, part was an account of the challenges of delivering health care in a low income country, part was about the ups and downs of working as a big team including some big egos. It wasn’t until I imagined writing a book that my Dad would enjoy that it started to come together and evolved into a readable story. It was published as Lemurs of the Lost World
I guess Joe was partly responsible in several ways for my learning to write well enough to achieve publication. Probably most important was the discipline he instituted of regular letter writing. When we were kids our weekend chore was to write to our grandparents in Belfast. Having to commit some words to paper whether we felt like it or not was such good practise for a career as a writer.
He and I wrote to one another whenever I was abroad and we both enjoyed the exchanges. He really made me laugh when I came back to England after a long stint away and he said, ‘I shall miss writing to you, Jane!’
There is more about Joe, including some photos, in About The Author
if you scroll down to My Inspirational Dad.