Tribute to John Pendleton by Tim Costello
When someone dies there are as many different memories as people that knew them. In John’s case that is a lot of memories. These are some of my memories of John.
I first met John Pendleton, or JP as most of us knew him, in 1981. I was riding my first road race which John was organising. It was a series of three races and the main feature of the race were the hills. All of John’s races included hills. John’s face would light up if we went to a new course that featured a new undiscovered monster climb. Funnily enough we weren’t so enthusiastic.
I only really got to know John, however, in 1983. I had been selected to ride for the Wessex Division in the Preston Wheelers Classic 2-day and John was our chauffeur and team manager. On our way to Preston we stopped somewhere near the Cotswolds and John produced huge steak sandwiches. John was a great believer in the restorative effects of steak. He told me recently that he used to buy the steak from the farm shop at Adsdean to ensure that we had the best cuts. On the night before the last stage we drove round and round trying to find somewhere to eat but to no avail. John was adamant that we should have our steak. In the end we ended up in a fish and chip shop in Burnley. John was distraught. The next day I rode probably the best race of my life. He never said it, but I knew what he was thinking. “You would have done even better if you had had steak”. Only recently he reminded me of the night I had sausage and chips. On the way back home we broke down on the M6. When I joined John in the Southdown Velo the next year steak sandwiches and breaking down were to become a regular way of life. It was always a surprise that someone who made their living as a taxi driver had such unreliable cars. But if John’s cars let us down, he didn’t.
John was not just a member of Southdown Velo. He was Southdown Velo. He has been the continuous thread from its existence until today. For a number of years anonymous donations were made to the coffers of the club. He always denied it, but we knew it was him. Often as not, we were referred to, not as Southdown Velo, but John’s riders or John’s lads.
John did everything for us. All we had to do was ride our bikes: He would tell us which races to enter; Send off our entry forms; Drive us to the races; and pour us back into the car afterwards. I can still remember clearly those early morning starts. John would turn up at my house at 6 am having already made the steak sandwiches. He would then drive us to somewhere like Bristol. On the way he would tell us useful information about the race: The course; Who to watch; and where he would hand up drinks. We would sit in the back, half awake, trying to eat cold tinned rice pudding. And then there was John’s cool box. It would be stuffed full of food and bottles. Cake, chocolate bars, bananas and of course steak sandwiches. The bottles had served many a campaign and gave the impression that they had survived the great war. They were the happiest of days.
John was always vastly over optimistic about our chances in races and we often failed to meet his expectations. It was not unknown for him to make riders ride home if they had failed to finish. But if we did do well he would be absolutely delighted.
When John was not ferrying us backwards and forwards across the country he would be organising races. He was a prolific race organiser. In a typical year he would organise a series of three races in March, the three day Tour of the Southdowns in June, the Les Hennings Memorial and then the Sussex Border race in September.
If John had a fault it was that he would take on too much. Not because he wanted to be in charge or centre stage. Far from it. He was not one for the limelight. It was just that John could see what needed to be done and would get on and do it. I started commentating as a direct result of John trying to take on too many jobs. The Police on the Island were not overly impressed that John was single-handedly commentating and writing down his commissaire’s notes whilst also driving. The commentating job fell to me. For the next few years the inhabitants of the Isle of Wight had cause to regret this every May bank holiday.
John was a regular commentator at Portsmouth track and his voice was often in use elsewhere because he had an encyclopaedic knowledge about cycling. His commentary could, however, be less than fully accurate. When his line of vision was once obscured by a spectator he used the tannoy to politely ask the lady concerned to move. “Excuse me madam …” She turned to face John to reveal her full beard. John was rather embarrassed but we, of course, thought it was hilarious.
I cannot remember John ever having a harsh word to say about anyone. He might criticise but it was never in an unkind way, and then he would immediately justify to himself why someone was not as bad as he had just said they were.
When I started to race again a few years ago John was less involved than he had been. He was a regular fixture at Goodwood on Tuesday evenings, still helping by judging, but he rarely travelled further afield to races. The last time I recall that John took me to a race was a couple of years ago. It had been an epic last stage of a five-day race in the Ashdown Forest. John loved it. Not a single flat piece of road, all hills. As we drove home we broke down. My memory of that day is standing by the A27 in Worthing, steam pouring out of John’s radiator, both of us just laughing.
Late last year we finally persuaded John to go to France to watch the Duo Normand. John travelled with Jeremy, my son, and myself. We took my van, and we didn’t breakdown. John told me that he not been abroad for thirty years. It only struck me recently that the reason was that he had been too busy helping others to take the time. He thoroughly enjoyed himself and was very impressed by the race, the D-Day museums that we visited and the champagne in club class. We were sitting outside the bar in Marigny when the proprietor came out and told us that Raphaël Géminiani, a French cycling legend of John’s youth, was inside. In a moment John was transformed into a schoolboy again. He dashed inside to meet his hero and bubbled with excitement afterwards.
John’s final official role was to present the prizes at the youth prize presentation. He was not sure up until the last minute whether he was going to go as he was not feeling very well. Later in hospital he told me how much he had enjoyed himself and was glad he had been able to go. I know that Jeremy and Joshua, our youth riders, were both fond of John. He was always there at Goodwood: Taking their numbers; marshalling them at the start line and praising them at the end. I felt very proud when John would say of Jeremy “Just like his dad”.
John helped hundreds of people like me directly and many more indirectly. The fact that he had so many visitors in hospital was a testament to the high regard in which he was held. The next time I line up on the starting line at Goodwood there will be something missing - JP. He was a one-off. It won’t be the same without him.