A creative, intelligent soul

Jo Sykes with the two George Stephenson pen and ink prints for sale.

A sale of artwork intended to support the Bay of Plenty hearing-impaired community more than 30 years ago will now go ahead after the pen and ink prints turned up again recently.

Hearing Support Bay of Plenty put out a call in The Weekend Sun on September 29 to anyone who may have known artist George Stephenson. His detailed pen and ink scenes of Coroglen in the Coromandel were donated to Hearing Association Tauranga in the early 1980s for a fundraiser that never went ahead.

The prints, more than 250 of each, surfaced again recently when a committee member found them in an old suitcase in his garage.

Several people have phoned Jo Sykes, manager of Hearing Support Bay of Plenty, claiming to have known George.

He is believed to have passed away more than 20 years ago but she learned that he had a wife named Elizabeth, a son named Lloyd who was intellectually disabled, and a daughter.

“They all said he was a local man who lived in Otumoetai at one stage. One man who rang me said George had bought a caravan off him. He wanted the caravan because he was going into hospital for a while and his wife was going to use it to sleep in the hospital car park. George had a folder of art in the back of his car which he brought out to show him and the man recognised the artwork from the picture in the paper,” says Jo.

“Everyone said he was a very friendly, chatty man; very creative and loved to spin a yarn. All in a very similar vein. He sounded like a bit of a character.”

The Weekend Sun editor Brian Rogers also believes he knew George Stephenson in the mid to late 1980s when he was working as editor of the original Bay Sun.

“For several years I had visits most days from a George Stephenson who escaped the rest home to come and hang out with me/the newsroom. At first the rest home was quite concerned and kept bundling him back home, but he was persistent and I sort of took a liking to the old codger and thought, one day when I'm old and lonely, someone might give me the time of day.

“Anyway, eventually we came to an arrangement with the rest home that they'd ring to make sure Mr Stephenson had arrived and was safe, and not holding us up in our work, and he'd stay sometimes for hours at a time, mainly watching and listening but telling the odd story. Occasionally we'd find him something to do, such as licking stamps or sorting papers. He soaked up every bit of it. I can still see his face today.

“Sometimes he'd arrive when I was out, and he'd just sit for ages in reception waiting for me. He just said he had nothing else to do and would wait if we didn't mind. This went on for about four years.

“One day he just said he couldn't visit any more, and I thought the rest home had stopped him, but the death notice appeared in the paper the next week.

“I'm not sure if it's the same guy, but it wouldn't surprise me. Trapped inside the old man was a very creative, intelligent and caring soul. I still think about him often,” says Brian.

Hearing Support Bay of Plenty is now going to sell George's prints for $20 each or $35 a set – the original price that was set in the 1980s. A framed option is also available.

Jo has had a set of the prints framed for the Hearing Support office wall, which can be viewed at 1342 Cameron Rd, Greerton. If you would like to order some prints contact Jo on 07 578 6476.

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