JOHN Michael Sykes, a master builder who was a self-made man in the truest sense of the word having started and built up a family business from scratch, has died aged 78.
He started his own building firm in the 1950s from his home in Cookridge, Leeds, after doing National Service. His wife Pauline would leaflet homes in the area to advertise the business which was called John M Sykes and Sons as, by then, they had two young boys.
Eventually he bought a yard at Horsforth and built up the firm, which is still in Long Row and run by his sons Nigel, who is a joiner, and Christopher, who looks after the business side.
Mr Sykes was born in Leeds, the younger child of John and Hilda Sykes, and his father was a policeman.
He was educated at Bentley Lane Primary School in Meanwood, Leeds, but because of the Second World War did not go to school until he was six, and illness also meant his education was affected and he never went on to secondary school.
When he left Bentley Lane in 1949, at the age of 15 he worked for a firm of joiners and undertakers in Headingley, Leeds, Dennison and Stead, after whom Dennistead Crescent is named. He went to night school to qualify as a joiner, but paid for extra classes on his day off.
After deferring his National Service he was eventually called up for two years in the RAF. After six months he rang his wife-to-be, whom he had been courting for five years, and asked her to marry him because he could get a marriage allowance.
She accepted, and by the time he left the RAF they had saved enough money with the marriage allowance for a deposit on their first home in Cookridge. It was there, six months after leaving the RAF, that he began his business.
They later bought a piece of land in Cookridge, building their own bungalow, and the yard in Horsforth for the business. There it grew substantially and became in demand across West and North Yorkshire for building everything from small home extensions to funeral parlours and children’s nurseries.
Mr Sykes had worked at a time when little was known about the dangers of asbestos to people in the building trade, and how it can lie dormant in the lungs for up to 40 years. He died from the asbestos-related disease mesothelioma six months after being taken ill.
Mr Sykes is survived by his wife Pauline, sons Nigel and Christopher, daughter Annette, sister Brenda, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.