DOVER — Inventor, sculptor, horticulturalist, computer pioneer, soldier, legislator, train buff, consultant, teacher, preacher’s kid, philanthropist, entrepreneur, woodworker, bibliophile, real estate investor, Arctic traveler, class president, husband, father, and Pop-pop are only some of the titles which could be used for Joe B. Parks. Interested in almost anything and an expert in many things, he lived an amazingly full and happy life. He died Wednesday at the age of 94.
A steward of the environment, he promoted conservation, was a tree farmer, and received an award from the Sierra Club for distinguished environmental service as a legislator. Afflicted early with a disease called “gardening,” he spent years working with plants, studying, propagating, and hybridizing them.
At the age of 90, 10 years after receiving a cancer diagnosis, he traveled to the Arctic to investigate heat capture in high-Arctic flowering plants. He developed and registered more than 20 new azaleas and rhododendrons. He loved nothing more than sharing his gardens and his knowledge with other plant-lovers, teaching gardening courses for the Dover Adult Learning Center, designing and installing a Japanese garden with students from Dover High, writing a gardening column for Foster’s Daily Democrat, conducting plant-by-plant tours of his gardens, and serving as auctioneer at the annual Durham Garden Club plant sale.
He served as President of the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society and was a founding member of the Maine Coastal Botanical Garden. He was honored by the City of Dover in 2008 with the dedication of the Joe B. Parks Riverwalk Garden and by the American Rhododendron Society in 2005 with the Silver Medal. Many of his rhododendrons will be maintained at the University of Southern Maine Arboretum in Gorham, Maine.
A talented artist and creative person in many other areas, he sculpted in clay, bronze, and granite, carved and printed multicolor woodblocks, and used his woodworking skills to build everything from tiny jewel boxes to intricate dollhouses to custom furniture. He was always inventing minor domestic improvements, including a hands-free door opener, a bird feeder squirrel deterrent, and a “better mouse trap” that he tried to patent. He was a bibliophile who collected and preserved all kinds of books, treasured his status as a proprietor of the Portsmouth Athenaeum, and spent the last several years finalizing his memoirs for publication.
Joe was born in McAlester, Okla., on Dec. 17, 1915, son of the Rev. James A.T. and Florence Youngblood Parks and brother of Mary Parks White. He was extremely proud of his Cherokee grandparents who had come to Indian Territory over the Trail of Tears. He graduated from Oklahoma A. & M. College (now Oklahoma State University) in 1939 with a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration.
While at A&M he began his lifelong work with computing machines. Joe moved to Washington, D.C., after his graduation and soon met his future wife, Florence Evans, whom he married in 1941. They were happily married for 58 years until her death in 1999.
Recruited by IBM as part of the Lend-Lease war effort, Joe received a commission from the Army shortly after Pearl Harbor. He served in the medical corps in England and France as a supply officer and was one of only a handful of headquarters soldiers to be awarded the Bronze Star. After the war, Joe began a career in public service, beginning with the Veterans’ Administration and culminating in his retirement as a Deputy Director at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. In addition to his government work, he was a managing director for RCA and a marketing director at Booz Allen Hamilton.
After his retirement, Joe and Florence moved to Dover, N.H. to be near their daughter, Kathryn and her family. Joe and Florence believed that service to one’s community was a basic responsibility and were engaged in their communities throughout their lives.
In Dover, Joe immediately became an active member of the First Parish Church of Dover, serving as both a deacon and a warden, offered his services to the city of Dover as a computer consultant, became active in the Republican Party, serving as Chairperson of the Strafford County Republicans, and was a corporator of Wentworth-Douglass Hospital.
In 1984, he first ran for a seat in the New Hampshire legislature, conducting a door-to-door campaign from his bicycle, and ultimately served four terms. He was named a Rotary Paul Harris Fellow in 1998 in recognition of his service to his community.
Joe leaves his daughter, Anne Parks-Goss and her husband, Vladimir, of Hillsborough, N. C., granddaughter, Christine Goss of Lewisburg, W.Va.; his daughter, Kathryn Forbes of Dover, granddaughter, Moira Forbes and her husband, Jared Hughes of Arlington, Va., grandson, Kenneth Forbes and his wife, Connie, of Stowe, Vt., granddaughter, Megan Forbes and her husband, Richard Brown of Brooklyn, N.Y., four great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and his beloved poodle, Buzz.
A celebration of his life will be held at the First Parish Church, Congregational, Dover, N.H. on Saturday, April 10, at 10 a.m. Calling hours will be Friday, April 9, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Wiggin Purdy Funeral Home in Dover. Family flowers only.
Memorial donations may be made to the Dover Adult Learning Center of Strafford County, or to the City of Dover Joe B. Parks Riverwalk Garden.
Visit www.fosters.com/obits the online guest book.
Published in Fosters from April 2 to April 4, 2010