Frank Douglas Sykes: 1927-2017

Jun 07, 2017

An Englishman of 89 and forever a true Renaissance man, Frank died peacefully, with his immediate family by his side, after a long and courageous battle with major health issues.

Born in Batley, Yorkshire in England, Frank attended Batley Grammar school, receiving academic honors and multiple track and field awards before moving to St. Paul’s College in Cheltenham, where he graduated with a degree in English literature.

At this time, he developed a passion for rugby, which determined the trajectory of his future years. After playing in college, he joined the Army, where he played for the Combined Services in Hong Kong.

After returning to England to resume his teaching career at Northampton Grammar school, he made his way to the top levels of the English Rugby Football Union, playing for Huddersfield, Yorkshire, and finally in 1954 for Northampton Saints.

In 1955, he was selected to play for England against France and Scotland, and then for the British Lions for their four-month tour of South Africa. This elite team was drawn from the best players in the United Kingdom. Again in 1963, he was selected for England’s tour to Australia and New Zealand.

With a wealth of experience in secondary school education and a thirst for a new challenge, Frank moved to the U.S. in 1966 with his wife and baby daughter, resuming his teaching career in independent schools in Boston, Phoenix and Santa Barbara, over a period of 31 years.

Rugby at that time was an amateur game in England, and was just catching on in the U.S. With so many young college students eager to learn the game, every weekend Frank would travel all over Massachusetts, then Arizona and California, coaching and refereeing in between teaching commitments.

An exemplary instructor, an inspiring coach, a universally respected man, Frank was a paragon among residential schoolteachers. His was a rare combination of qualities which made him both an outstanding role model for students and a beloved schoolmaster: On one hand, he possessed the steely toughness and personal discipline of a great athlete; on the other, he approached life with the humble, probing curiosity of a lifelong scholar.

For someone who was a larger-then-life character, what happened in 1995 was certainly unfortunate at best and tragic at worst. Within 24 hours of landing in London from Los Angeles, Frank suffered a massive stroke that took nearly all of his mobility and all of his speaking abilities.

The spirit and fight that had been with him throughout his life remained, however, and while he succeeded to some degree in regaining his mobility, his speech never returned. This was a particular tragedy considering these comments from a former teaching colleague in 2006: “Frank’s speaking ability was admired and envied by everybody who ever heard him. Whether he was chatting with friends, discussing a poem or Shakespeare, stirring the passions of his team before a big game, or delivering a graduation speech, Frank mesmerized listeners.”

He retired from teaching in 1995 and his wife became his devoted caregiver for 22 years.

Frank was indeed a remarkable man, loved and respected by all who had the privilege to know him. His brilliant mind and wit, his sense of adventure and his love and joy of family and friends shone through. He was always the true English gentleman, proud of his heritage and early life and so much admired for his courage and determination with his major health issues. He was also proud to become a naturalized U.S. citizen several years ago.

Marty would like to thank all the doctors and nurses at the University of Washington who were instrumental in Frank’s care for years as he struggled to overcome his stroke and skin cancer. They were always kind, patient and understanding of his limitations, and were a tremendous support for Marty as his caregiver.

Frank is survived by his beloved wife and travel partner of 52 years, Anne-Marie (Marty), his daughter Nicola, son-in-law Ted Drilling and granddaughters Hannah and Annika of Severna Park Maryland. His sisters Kathleen and Brenda live in England, as does his brother-in-law Douglas, sister-in-law Patricia and seven nieces and nephews.

We will remember Frank at a celebration of his life at 3 p.m. Sunday, July 23, at North Sound Church in Edmonds.





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