Josephine Muller Shanks passed away peacefully at home on November 25, 2019. She was born on May 20, 1934 in Houston to Anthony Charles Muller and Josephine Brummett Muller of Houston.
Josephine grew up in the Museum District of Houston, first living with her family at the Warwick Hotel for many years and then moving to the Shadyside neighborhood. She attended the original Kinkaid School on Richmond Avenue and went to Camp Mystic where she was an M Girl. After freshman year, she moved to Lamar High School (where she was captain of the first women’s basketball team) and graduated from Mount Vernon Seminary (High School) on Foxhall Road in Washington DC. She attended Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts but returned to Houston to graduate from Rice Institute (now Rice University) where she made many lifelong friends.
She was at Rice when she was set up with a charming chemical engineer at Humble Oil named Rex Shanks. He quickly became the love of her life, and they were married in April 1956, just a few weeks before she graduated from Rice. Soon after, they moved to New York where Rex did a stint with Humble’s parent company, Standard Oil. Returning to Houston, Jo and Rex settled down and enjoyed art openings, Great Books discussion groups and raising their four children.
Josephine loved Houston and the outdoors. She took her children on bike rides around Buffalo Bayou, to numerous plays and concerts at Miller Outdoor Theater, on trips to the Houston Zoo and to many, many Astros games. She had a lifelong love of tennis, and she and her kids loved attending the River Oaks Tennis Tournament each April. She also enjoyed helping the groups she loved, serving on the boards of St. John’s School, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Junior League of Houston, The Friends of Fondren Library, The Contemporary Arts Museum and Rice’s Shepherd School of Music.
After Rex’s unexpected death in 1981, Josephine persevered, investing successfully for many years and leading the family in all aspects. She was a caring parent, guiding hand and fierce advocate for her kids, helping all to navigate college and taking them on her extensive travels.
Her true passion emerged as she became more involved in The Garden Club of Houston. She became interested and soon became the expert in town on Louisiana Iris. She ran the Louisiana Iris booth for many years at GCH’s Bulb Mart and became known nationwide for her expertise. Besides serving as GCH’s President in 1996 and on the board of the American Horticultural Society for many years, two hybridizers named new irises after her: “Empress Josephine “ (from Louisiana) and “Josephine Shanks” (from Australia). In 1992, she received the Garden Club of America’s Medal of Merit “for her exceptional contribution in the field of irises … and for generously sharing her knowledge with others.” In 1997 she won the Natalie Peters Webster Medal which recognizes the winner’s unique and outstanding contributions to horticulture which was presented to her at the Garden Club of America’s national convention in Philadelphia. She was known as the “Iris Lady” and loved introducing people to the beauty of Louisiana irises. She belonged to and held leadership positions in a number of horticultural groups including the Society for Louisiana Irises, Mercer Arboretum, Louisiana Society for Horticultural Research, American Iris Society, SIGNA, International Bulb Society, Garden Club of America and many more.
Josephine was predeceased by her husband, Rex Shanks Jr., her parents, Tony and Josephine Muller, and her brother, Walter Muller. She is survived by her four children, Josie Jones and husband Michael, Kirby Shanks and wife Stephanie, Carol Price and husband Dan, and Katherine Dodd. She is also survived by her seven grandchildren, Cade, Olivia and Nicole Shanks, Helen and Josephine Dodd, and Abigail and Rex Price, all of Houston.
Her family wishes to thank Dr. Susan Williams at Baylor St. Luke’s/Kirby Senior Care Clinic and her wonderful caregivers Pally Hensley, Denise Johnson, Lokedria Simon, Kimberly Jackson, Liliana Sagastizado and Carla Jackson.
A celebration of her life will be held on Sunday, December 8, 2019 at Bradshaw-Carter, 1734 W. Alabama St., Houston, Texas 77098; the family will receive guests from 1-4 pm with a service at 1:30 pm and a reception following. A private burial will take place at Glenwood Cemetery at a later date. For friends desiring, memorials may be made to the Josephine Muller Shanks Scholarship at Rice University which funds a female math student interested in teaching, the Garden Club of Houston or to a charity of your choice.
Rice University- Josephine Muller Shanks Scholarship
6100 Main Street, Houston TX 77005
The Garden Club of Houston
4212 San Felipe Street, PMB 486, Houston TX 77027-2902