Friday, 10 April 2009

Jonnie Woodall, the man who loved people.

Jonnie Woodall MBE an obituary.

You probably never met Jonnie, but a week ago he was hit by a train at a level crossing and died, the end of a great life.
You can, no doubt, read the obituaries in the press, there will be talk of representing his country at multiple winter Olympics, of his military service, of his business acumen and his success in organising cycling events. But there won't be much in the way of personal stuff, so, I'd like to beg your indulgence for a few moments.

Jonnie would have like you, who ever you are, he would have given you time and he'd have listened to you with the same attention and concentration he gave to those he'd known for years. You see Jonnie just loved people, there was no getting away from it. When you spoke Jonnie listened, not that modern half an ear listening that you get in today's modern half an ear times, oh no. What you got with the big man was full on 'What you say is important' listening. And Jonnie would be interested in what you say, he'd look you in the eye, he'd nod and he'd ask you questions, proper listening that, good old fashioned listening.

The other thing Jonnie would have done is believed in you. Jonnie would have believed in you, just as he believed in everyone he met. He would believe that once you got on a bike you could exceed any targets you had set yourself, that you could ride further and faster than you had previously thought possible. Jonnie just believed in humanity, in the power of the human spirit to overcome barriers, whatever barriers you put up, 'It's too far', 'It's too steep', 'It's too fast' Jonnie would knock them down for you. Not in an agressive way, oh no, that was never his style, somehow Jonnie managed to convince you that you would be riding that extra 50 miles, that you'd be cycling the extra hill and when you'd done it and amazed yourself Jonnie would smile the smile of a man sharing you joy and your elation.

Jonnie just embraced life and whilst he had one arm hugging life he'd reach out with the other and embrace you too. That was it, it was a simple philosophy really, treat people as you would want to be treated yourself and you know what? We all hugged Jonnie just as hard as he hugged us.



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Andrew said...

You are so right about him - I first met him at the Cresta Run in Switzerland over 35 years ago where he had become a top rider, and I was just a novice. But he spared me the same care and attention and generous advice that he obviously gave later in the world of cycling, and when eventually I won a race on the Cresta myself, it was to him that I owed the most. And he was generous with his time for the international sport of Bob-Skeleton, too, where he became President of the British association and helped make the British team one of the strongest in the world. He was a big man on the inside as well as the outside, his plummy accent disguising a real man of the people - he never talked down to anyone, even me, with my unsophisticated midlands twang! Sad that I am at his premature loss, I must rejoice in having known him - he enriched my life, and that of many others; no human could aspire o a better epitaph than that...

Grant said...

I knew Jonnie from the Cresta as well, and I think your obituary sums him up beautifully.
He was a gentle giant, never in too much of a hurry to talk, or to listen, and he made friends more easily than anyone else I've ever known. Kind. Tolerant. Generous. A fantastic 'sport'. A shining example of how to live. I, like many, shall miss him.
Just before he died he sent out an email drawing a sound conservative politician to general attention, who the media had (wittingly or un-?) overlooked. I didn't read it until after I heard of his death, and as I read it, it just struck me as so typical of him - a fair player to the End.
When I was starting out on the Cresta - about 25 years ago - he had already passed the point of riding competitively, but he was still a wealth of knowledge, and was willing to dispense it to young riders, like myself, who were hungry to know how to do it better, and his advice was always spot-on. He took his remarkable knowledge of riding on the ice into cycling too, and told me a tale some years ago, with such a glint of delight in his eyes, of how he had struggled up a very long ascent in a big race, with many lighter cyclists passing him, but once he'd crested the top (and here his smile broadened out), his immense courage and his eye for 'the line' took over, and as he rocketed down the hill he over-took them all back, and others besides, and left them in his wake.
Ah - Jonnie - it must have been so sweet! And it will always make me smile to think of you thus - putting your marker down.

Lycra Lout said...

Nice one. Well put.

Phil Chris said...

I'd only known Jonnie since 2004 and endorse everything above. He offered unconditional support and friendship. For example, it didn't make any difference to his generous outreach whether you turned up or snubbed his invitation to a bike ride; he'd always try again and welcome you back like you'd never been away when you did show up. A great example to us all.

Anonymous said...

Hi my name is Kevin and I am a member of the i-team,the same team that jonnie was a member of before he died.I first met jonnie in 2004 shortly after I joined the club.We agreed to meet up in Shropshire to do the Cambrian challenge ride,a 55 mile ride organised by the North Shropshire wheelers.My first impression of jonnie was that he was a tall distinguished looking English gentleman,this was to remain with me throughout the time I knew him.On the ride we both got lost,it was pouring with rain and I was getting dropped on the hills.Jonnie waited for me and rode with me on a detour until we met up with two guys from the North Shropshire wheelers.Jonnie rode on ahead on his own when he knew I was in good company,he had a 15 mile ride home.Jonnie had time for everybody and was a true friend who would always help and encourage you if he saw you in difficulty.I rode with him many more times on numerous charity ride ,the Gran fondo Cymru club ride in 2005,and many other sportives.I always enjoyed his company and I shall always feel bereft of a very dear friend.

Anonymous said...

I remember him, he was an Officer in the Regiment my Father Served with, known to those in the Regiment affectionally as the Jolly Green Giant due to the bright Green Tracksuit bottoms he wore. My Father was a difficult man to please, yet he had the upmost respecht for Major Woodall, may he rest in peace. My thoughts go out to his Wife and Family.