Larger than life Norfolk farmer had a passion for rugby

John Ross

John Ross - Credit: Submitted

A larger than life north Norfolk farmer, rugby player and England supporter, John Ross, has died aged 80.

His election as president of Norfolk RFU in 2004 gave him enormous pleasure as rugby played second, just, to his main love – farming.

JR, as he was known to so many friends in farming and rugby, was always on the front row of Holt & District Farmers' Club. He made his presence felt, often with a forceful question, sitting just inches from the guest speaker.

A founder member of Holt RFC in November 1961, he played a month later. Over the years, he rarely if ever missed a match, either as player or later as spectator. He was chairman for two years until 1983 and president between 1992 and 1996.

He played initially for Norwich but at Holt relished the rivalry against West Norfolk and the so-called farmers' teams at Diss and North Walsham.

He had a leading role in Holt RFC's move to the new Bridge Road ground in October 1968. Almost half a century later, he was delighted when the £500,000 investment in club facilities was officially opened last month. An early champion of mini-rugby, he was respected in national rugby circles, and as a follower of England, especially at Twickenham and abroad on Lions tours.

Born on April 7, 1936, John David Sidney Ross was the middle son of a farming family. After Little Snoring Primary School, he joined older brother, Ian, as a boarder at Norwich High School, which moved out of the city, later becoming Langley School. He played rugby and cricket and excelled at athletics. Unbeaten on the track at 100 yards, 220 and 440 yards, he was as good on the field and successively Victor ludorum.

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His father ran a typical Norfolk farm, with cereals, roots and a small dairy herd. About 155 acres of the original farm was requisitioned for RAF Little Snoring, which became a bomber station from 1943. While he wanted to farm, he did his two years' National Service from 1953. Later posted to RAF Upwood, near Ramsey, in Cambridgeshire, SAC (senior aircraftman) Ross returned to the family's Manor Farm, Little Snoring. Later, he took a tenancy at Cannister Hall Farm, Houghton St Giles, where his son Andrew now farms.

He enjoyed farm competitions and excelled at growing massive sugar beet and won Stoke Ferry Agricultural Society's Arthur Gilmour Trophy three times in 12 years. He won last November when his heaviest single root weighed 10.758kg (22.3lbs) – having tasted initial success in 2004.

A champion barley grower, he took the supreme title at the 55th annual meeting of Holt Farmers in 2004. His Pearl winter barley beat younger brother Colin into reserve spot.

In 2007, regarded as a very difficult harvest, he entered a Maris Otter malting barley sample, originally cut at 21 per cent moisture. And he was pleased as punch to beat his nephew, Stuart, who had entered an Otter sample.

For many years, he entered the Norfolk Grain Championships and took honours in the 29th open championships in November 2005 with a sample of Optic. When he received the Pauls Malt award at Diss from South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon, his grin was almost as wide as the trophy. He repeated his success two years later with Maris Otter.

He married Cara Aldiss in June 1961, who survives him. He leaves a son Andrew, daughters Elizabeth and Catherine, and seven grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at St Mary's and All Saints, Little Walsingham, on Saturday, June 25, at 4.30pm..

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