Joe Pais - “They that instruct others shall shine as stars in the firmament of Heaven!”

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 Joe Pais’s life was an instructive one, in every sense of the word.

Education and work were the central themes – he was always looking to improve the world and those around him in any way he could. And in doing so, he set an instructive example for us all. Most of the letters, cards and well-wishes that we have received have invariably touched on this and recounted some anecdote or the other of Joe’s selfless service. It would be impossible to recount them all here today, but suffice to say that Joe almost perfectly lived out the first verse of Lord Krishna’s argument in the Bhagavad Gita:

“To action alone hast thou a right, but never to it’s fruits. Let not the fruits of action be thy motive. Also, let there not be in thee any attachment to inaction.”

Inaction was certainly anathema to Joe. On the morning he passed away, he was lining up potatoes to be planted and reviewing the minutes of meetings of the Residents Association of which he was the serving Chairman. This typical relentlessness was very much in keeping with the whole of his life.

Joe’s early years were spent in Bombay in India. He attended St. Stanislaus High School (1946-47) and St. Xavier’s College, where he graduated with an honours degree in Physics and Chemistry and soon came to England to continue his studies. He was awarded both his higher degrees by London University and very early in his career chose to specialise in the field of Electrical Materials and Devices. In this field he published numerous papers carried out extensive research, not just of a purely academic nature but also for industry and the MoD.

India was always in his thoughts and in 1967 he returned at the request of the government on a 6-month study of Higher Technical Education with a stint at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay. In 1968, he gave an invited lecture at the American Academy of Science Conference and then undertook a mini lecture tour with included Princeton, Johns Hopkins and MIT among others.

Along with education and work, sport played a central role in Joe’s life. His passion for it started in his teens – he organised tournaments and constantly encouraged others to take up sports. In England he took full advantage of the excellent sports facilities available and represented Battersea College in hockey and badminton in the winter, and cricket and athletics in the summer. Athletics was his first love and he captained the athletic club for 3 years and won a number of trophies. Later in his academic career he always made sure he had time for the University of Surrey Staff Cricket and Badminton teams.

Retirement allowed Joe to devote more of his time to his other great love – gardening. Along with A. Mary, he managed to grow a quite staggering quantity of fruit and vegetables and with a quality which won acclaim not only at the local gardening club but also at national shows organised by the Royal Horticultural Society. He even got a mention and a photograph in the Times in 2001 for his apples which were judged the best-in-show at the RHS in the fruit category.

To those of you who competed against U. Joe at gardening competitions or wondered about his prolific winning – I hope U. Joe will forgive me – but I can now reveal the secret behind his gardening success – he used to sing to his plants. And in the off chance that you are still wondering about it, then clearly you have not had the unique experience of U. Joe singing to you.

It is fitting that we have gathered here today in the church of St. Joseph – the patron saint of workmen and carpenters - for yet another facet to Joe’s life was his carpentry. Right through his life he remained a perfectionist and turned out all manner of articles from chests of drawers and chess boards to marquetry and inlay work. Of course, this church is also the one Joe attended and for those of you looking for examples of his craftsmanship, you need look no further than the pews in front of you which bear his handiwork.

So, this was just a little bit about what Joe did. But what about Joe the man? Well, we are each a product of our times and Joe was no different. Born in the 1930s – a time of economic depression and war, made worse in India by the famines inflicted on the country. As in so many of his generation, it bred a dogged self-reliance coupled with a natural conservatism, in thought and in deed. The self-reliance was probably his most readily observable and enduring trait.

U. Joe’s conservatism was of a fundamentally utiliatarian nature, possibly best summed up by one of his favourite maxims ‘one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure’. And U. Joe found a lot of treasure! All of which he either gratefully used or passed on to those who could. Like the tennis balls which would dribble into his garden from the rec and were passed on to children in Goa. I remember the time we went to watch Middlesex play Surrey at the Oval. After the day’s play, U. Joe took us round the back of the pavilion to where the cricketers had thrown-away their supposedly unusable bats (he invariably knew where carelessly discarded ‘treasure’ was to be found). There was nothing wrong with the blade of the bats, it was just that the handles were slightly damaged. So U. Joe got us to pick up as many bats as we could to be carted off back to India, where replacing bat handles was not deemed to be uneconomical. He got new handles put in and donated the bats to schools in Bombay where hundreds, if not thousands of school boys have been using bats previously used by giants of the game such as Gooch, Gatting and Gower. This was classic U. Joe – an eagle eye for needless waste coupled with typically under-the-radar generosity. But Joe’s contribution to education extended well beyond the odd cricket bat and a few tennis balls. In addition to the thousands of students who passed under his stern but kindly gaze at the University of Surrey, Joe also donated many tens of thousands of pounds for the education of under-privileged children in India.

Although in the strict sense of the word, Joe may not have qualified as a ‘Mahatma’ or great soul, he had a clarity of soul which was always in shining evidence, untainted by the need for personal gain. He treated everybody with the same respectful equanimity, from the Duke of Kent to the little kid asking for his ball back from the vegetable patch. In all his varied and wide-ranging interests he was always straightforward, never masked a hidden agenda, nor betrayed the slightest hint of malevolence. It was this clarity of conscience that allowed him to routinely speak truth to power.

To be sure, Joe had his quirks – we all do – but the more you saw of Joe’s quirks, the more endearing they became. And as with everything else about him, they were grounded in principle. Take his gardening clothes for example. Its possible to describe them as being  ‘somewhat eclectic’ but they were also very revealing, in every sense of the word. Perhaps conscious of the fact that too many of his former countrymen toiling away back in India were inadequately clothed, and perhaps equally conscious that the robes maketh not the man, Joe shunned all sartorial pretensions. Of course, this was also very muchin keeping with Joe’s strong and unyielding belief in the dignity of labour.

There were no half measures with Joe. He was staunchly patriotic and having taken British citizenship and to the British way of life, he always insisted on buying British products in the supermarket and would only consider buying a car if it was made in Britain.

There were certainly no half-measures when it came to U. Joe’s family to whom he was especially devoted. To us, U. Joe was our hero. A proverbial banyan tree under which we took shelter. He was always caring, loving, thoughtful and more often than not, generous to a fault. He never thought twice about going the extra mile. For example, knowing full well that his sister Adelaide, who was a nun in Karachi in Pakistan, was not permitted to visit family back home, U. Joe made sure to stop off in Karachi on his trips back from the UK. As was typical of U. Joe, he would invariably spend his holidays turning his mind and hands to all that needed mending around him. On one such trip to visit his sister in Goa, he helped design and set-up a small bio-fuel based power unit for the local convent, which not only ensured a regular power supply but also significant savings. His model was soon replicated in other convents, and it wasn’t long before Joe the Engineer became the patron saint of power generation for the grateful nuns of Goa.

The Sanskrit word yoga has the same roots as the English work ‘yoke’ – to unite, to unify. Indian spirituality has long held that our ultimate goal in life is to unite ourselves with the Absolute, with God. (There are three principal pathways to achieve this unity – the path of work,  the path of knowledge, and the path of wisdom/devotion).

Joe was undoubtedly a karma yogi – one who sought unity God through work. The Bhagavad Gita is very clear about karma yogis.

 It states: “Work is said to be the means of the sage who wishes to attain to yoga. When he has attained to yoga, serenity is said to be the means.” Now that U. Joe has attained to yoga, no doubt, somewhere up there in that great workshop in the sky, he is working away as relentlessly as ever, and with serenity.

God who created him out of love gave him a mission to fulfil and having completed his mission called him home to his heavenly kingdom to enjoy peace and rest. May peace and serenity be with you too

The author, David Pais, also an alumnus of St. Stanislaus High School is the nephew of Joe Pais.

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