John Sykes, the wise man they all loved

THE Border yesterday farewelled a “man for all seasons”.

About 400 people gathered at Sacred Heart Church, North Albury as the much-loved Border agronomist, John Sykes, was remembered.

Ever a friend to the region’s farming families, Mr Sykes died last Saturday, aged 63, from a rare form of skin cancer.

But despite the tears, those present embraced the opportunity to smile, chat and laugh as they remembered the man who, in Father Kevin Flanagan’s words, offered so much hope.

“How many times would he walk across a paddock with you and say ‘just hang on’... how many times again when some of you were in despair, would he give you comfort,” he said.

“He would give you hope because he had hope, in the soil, in the sun, in the rain.”

Rand farmer Roy Hamilton spoke on behalf of farming families to “say thanks to the man who gave so much to us”, whether you owned 10,000 or just 500 hectares.

“He was always willing to help,” he said.

“If he had a fault, it was probably that he couldn’t say no to a genuine request for help.”

Mr Hamilton spoke of Mr Sykes’ successes as an agronomist and, since 1992, a consultant, and how he encouraged farmers to embrace technology and methods.

There were chuckles as Mr Hamilton shared things he and others would miss: planning your day on “Sykesey’s time” if you had an appointment, the hand-written recommendations that put a doctor’s script to shame and his amusingly inaccurate weather predictions.

But mostly, he said, they would miss a “sincere and trusted friend”.

Tadhg Dowling, too, spoke of friendship; it was more than 40 years ago at Albury’s Star Hotel that he met Mr Sykes as they bonded over a love of rugby.

Mr Sykes was more than a co-founder of the Albury Steamers Rugby Club — members of which formed a guard of honour as Mr Sykes’ casket was carried from the church — he was the “outstanding personality” of Border rugby.

“We advertised for men of fitness and finesse ... and John Sykes was the captain of finesse,” Mr Dowling said.

The man with the big smile and signature laugh was known for making everyone feel welcome, and the one who could be relied on to keep the social calendar full.

“I’m told rugby is the game they play in heaven and they will surely be boasting of their recruit for the coming season,” Mr Dowling said.

“And they won’t be disappointed.”

Perhaps most touching were the simple words of Mr Sykes’s wife, Virginia, who spoke with the qualities she praised in her husband: “Calm, intelligence, humour”.

She spoke of his love for their four children — Victoria, Nicholas, Alexander and Isabella — and how in his illness, they made the best of it, relishing time with friends and family and taking full licence to indulge in gourmet delights.

“John was my counter-balance and my soulmate. He would not be surprised I’m having the last word,” Mrs Sykes said, eliciting quiet laughter through the congregation’s tears.

“I was so fortunate to know him and be married to him for almost three decades. There are no more words that define our loss.

“Your amazing grace made you truly a man for every season.”

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