Cyril Durrant dies: A farmer with a big passion for Norfolk, the Broads and rugby
PUBLISHED: 11:49 21 April 2015 | UPDATED: 18:45 22 April 2015
Cyril Durrant was a larger-than-life character who graced the county’s council chambers, countryside and rugby fields with his big heart and good humour.
The former potato and pea farmer from Ashmanhaugh died aged 83 in a nursing home on Friday after illness forced him to step back from a busy public life in recent years.
Mr Durrant’s record of service to the county he loved ranged from decade with parish and district councils, to a passion for rugby.
But he was also a stalwart member of the Broads Authority and former chairman of the Nancy Oldfield Trust charity offering Broads activities to those with disabilities.
His commitment to the community earned him an MBE in 1994, and admiration from everyone he met with a trademark firm handshake and broad smile.
He was one of a handful of independent members of North Norfolk District Council - and a “father of the council” figure always happy to guide younger members.
In 2003 on donning the chairman’s chain for the third time his advice to newcomer councillors was: “Be patient. You won’t change things overnight. You can win the odd battle, but wars take longer.”
Shortly after leaving agricultural college he found himself in charge of the family 60-acre smallholding earlier than expected when his father died.
Mr Durrant rolled up his sleeves to tend the land, and pigs – leading to expansion, and a move to Ashmanhaugh, to become one of the biggest potato growers in the region.
In November 1957 his life took a life-changing turn, when he was persuaded to join Smallburgh Rural District Council at a time when he recalls affairs were “dominated by the gentry with colonels, majors and with no politics.”
It was also an era when new councillors sat,listened and learned rather than being propelled quickly into committee chairmanships.
Civic life also drew him into serving on the county fire committee, internal drainage boards and the Broads Authority - and he loved mixing with other people.
As a non-party political councillor Mr Durrant said he could “listen to all the arguments and go my own way” - adding that “I think you have to earn the trust of Norfolk people. They don’t want things altered too much.”
Mr Durrant was also a governor at Broadland High School in Hoveton.
He loved the Broads, its sailing and wildlife.
It was at agricultural college that he converted football to rugby, which was to shape his sporting life.
He was a founder member of the North Walsham club in 1962 when it used to play at North Walsham secondary modern school before heading off to “drink the Bluebell dry”.
He was a number eight in the back row, team secretary, and captained the second team. Mr Durrant was club president from 1994-97 and an honorary vice-president as well as county president in 1982-83.
He also ran the county and regional Colts teams and served with the eastern region Sports Council.
Heart problems slowed up Mr Durrant towards the end of the council career - putting an end to days getting up at 5am to plough before heading off on civic duties.
He leaves a wife Judy, whom he married in 1958 after meeting through Aylsham Young Farmers Club, and four grown up daughters Joanne, Julie, Tina and Debbie. A funeral date is yet to be set.
Do you want to pay tribute to Cyril Durrant? Email email@example.com
North Norfolk District Council chief executive Sheila Oxtoby:
Cyril was an excellent and very hard working councillor; he was full of character and integrity and will be fondly remembered by officers and Members who served with him. He was member from 1974 to 2007 - one of our longest-serving councillors - and chairman in 1989-91, 1999-2000 and 2003-2004.
A Broads Authority tribute said: “Cyril was an extremely valued member of the Broads Authority for 16 years from 1991 to 2007. He was a great advocate for our management of the Broads. He also provided a strong link with the farming community and local people.”
Dave Horne, president of North Walsham Rugby Club: “He was a big man in many ways. He used to help young players, like me, who had transport problems, taking them to Norfolk games and training sessions. He will be remembered with great respect and fondness as a man of great charisma who was a true ambassador of the club.
John Hipperson of Norfolk Rugby Football Union: Cyril was a larger than life character and always had a smile on his face and always willing to help players and clubs alike.