Born 12 June, 1914 died 14 September, 2004
by Will Sutherland
|John Seymour who lived at Killowen, Dunganstown, New Ross died on September 14th 2004, at the age of 90. John is best known as the author of The Complete Book of Self Sufficiency, first published in 1975. More recently he has been a popular TV commentator and an outspoken environmental campaigner.|
John Seymour was born in Essex, England. From his earliest childhood he had a creative and independent mind which was later matched with unusual physical strength and stamina – great qualities for one of the world’s last great adventurers.
John was never deterred by practical difficulties or boring complications – he lived life 110 percent. His mother was an American of Welsh extraction and one of John’s earliest dreams was to become a cowboy. After attending school in Switzerland and then completing a formal agricultural training, John left England at the age of 20 to find adventure in Africa. Once there he travelled widely working for the veterinary service; he managed farms, he worked down a copper mine and became skipper of a fishing boat.
John was still in Africa when the second world war began. He joined up with the King’s African Rifles and fought against the Japanese throughout the gruelling Burma war. Of the 40 officers who began that campaign with John only 2 survived to its conclusion. One extraordinary fact about John’s time fighting in the jungle was that he kept with him six classical records which he could play on a wind-up gramophone – he said it was this that kept him sane.
After the war John returned to England without a penny in his pocket. He lived in a converted trolley bus for several years before moving on to live and work on a Dutch sailing barge. By this time he had married his first wife Sally and started writing – mostly travel books. John always read widely and had a huge appetite for knowledge which he now brought to good effect doing radio talks in what became a long relationship with the BBC.
With a young family to look after and very little money, John and Sally moved into a remote cottage in Suffolk without water or electricity. John describes their early struggles for self sufficiency in what became one his most popular books The Fat of the Land. But as time went by John needed more land and when he heard there were derelict farms selling cheap in west Wales the family was lucky enough to obtain a mortgage on a 70 acre farm at Fahongle near Fishguard.
Once in Wales John got together with two young publishers called Dorling and Kindersley and began work on what was to be their first book – The Complete Book of Self Sufficiency. The rest, as they say, is history. The book sold several hundred thousand copies all over the world, bringing John’s down to earth philosophy to millions and kick starting DK on their road to becoming one of the world’s most successful publishers. During this time John opened his farm to the many people who had read his book and often travelled from all over the world to work with him. These included such visionary thinkers as Leopold Kohr and E. F. Schumacher. Dorling and Kindersley continued their relationship with John and in 2002 produced The New Complete Book of Self Sufficiency which, as the dust jacket says, is the definitive guide for dreamers and realists.
In 1980 John decided to hand his farm over to his family and “retired” to County Wexford in Ireland. Penniless once again (for all the book monies went into his farm) John and his young companion Angela Ashe (now Angela Sutherland) found another remote cottage with no electricity or water at Killowen beside the river Barrow. John and Angela put themselves wholeheartedly into building up their 3 acre smallholding while at the same time John continued his writing and campaigning against the destruction of our beautiful planet. John wrote about coming to Ireland in Blessed Isle, One Man’s Ireland.
John continued to work for the BBC and travelled widely in the 1980’s with his companion Angela to make a series of television films which were some of the first to bring environmental issues to a mass public. This campaigning continued with a 2 year programme of talks all over Britain. John’s pioneering work on the environment was recognised by the Austrian government who awarded John several of their highest state medals. In later years John also became a regular contributor to RTE’s Nationwide TV programme with Michael Ryan where his down to earth wit and common sense found great popularity.
During more than 20 years in Ireland John made many friends but he never shied away from speaking out and taking action against the things he believed were wrong. In 1999 he joined with a group of activists who destroyed genetically “mutilated” sugar beet planted by Monsanto near Arthurstown. The resulting court case achieved worldwide publicity and did much to alert public opinion to the dangers of uncontrolled technology and irresponsible multi-national corporations.
Throughout his life John Seymour wrote more than 40 books and made many films, TV and radio programmes. His robust wisdom on country matters, self-sufficiency and the environment has been an inspiration to many thousands of people all over the world. John’s work still continues at Killowen in the School for Self Sufficiency which he founded with Will and Angela Sutherland in 1993. Students from all over the world come to experience the Seymour lifestyle and philosophy at first hand.
Writer, warrior, sailor, farmer, friend – John’s rich and varied life has made a huge impact. As John himself wrote: “I am only one. I can only do what one can do. But what one can do, I will do!” John certainly did that and his tweed jacket with its red hankerchief, corduroy trousers and brown leather brogues will be greatly missed by all who knew him.
|author: Will Sutherland lives with his wife Angela and their children at Killowen, Co. Wexford, where, among other things, they continue to run the School of Self Sufficiency.|
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