Obituary: Joe Isbister

By Arnold Pickmere

* Joe Isbister, musician, policeman. QSM. Died aged 78.

As a policeman Joe Isbister never scaled lofty heights of rank. As leader of an orchestra for over 30 years he never claimed exalted position.

Rather the contrary. At the Auckland Philharmonic orchestra's 20th anniversary in 1982 he told the Herald: "There's nothing pretentious about this orchestra. We're just a hobby group and we play for fun."

But the ensemble which started out as the Henderson Chamber Orchestra has had as many as 35 members and a junior orchestra of 25.

Isbister pretty well lived music. After school at Seddon Memorial Technical College he met his wife, Eleanor, when they were both at the Auckland Teachers Training College, Mt Eden, in 1947-48. Joe played the pipe organ and piano and they both came from musical families.

But he soon found teaching music not lucrative enough for a young married man. He joined the police in 1957.

"The police had a strong publicity campaign going," he remembered wryly. "I thought I would be made commissioner in a week." Instead he lasted 28 years with no regrets.

The Auckland Philharmonic has often played as a pit orchestra for the North Shore Operatic Society, the Auckland Operatic Society and the Light Opera Club.

Often its membership involved several generations of one family. The Isbister family alone had five children and some grandchildren involved.

Beyond established players it included others who returned to music after some years of absence and it introduced younger musicians to both classical and lighter music.

In the police Isbister was a firearms instructor at Auckland for some years, an original member of the armed offenders squad and a specialist uniform inquiry man. He once even conducted a police male voice choir.

By the time the Auckland Rotary Club gave him a special vocational award in 1982 for services to the community he had been constable for eight years in Remuera, a person to whom "people can come and get advice before they get out of control", he explained.

Isbister received a Queen's Service Medal for services to the community in 1976. Involved not just with music but as chairman of the Lincoln Heights Primary School committee and Henderson High School's board of governors.

It seems that every community Isbister touched was left better off. A man, in other words, with a knack of hitting the right note. He is survived by his wife and children.

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