By Janet Jacobs
Corsicana Daily Sun
Whether people in the community were happy and excited on their way to a Tiger game, or grieving the death of a loved one, James Sykes was there.
He was the white-haired figure in a crisp white shirt and uniform pants waving cars into the parking lot, or escorting the funeral procession up to the cemetery entrance where he would stand with his hat over his heart, once again stopping traffic. He led off parades, and helped keep the peace at festivals, responded to airplane crashes, tornadoes, and fires, and led searches for lost children and drowning victims.
Sykes, 85, the last charter member of the Corsicana Emergency Corps, died Wednesday.
The Emergency Corps is a service organization that helps with traffic control for football games and other major events, provides escorts for funerals, and logistics for parades. Sykes was the corps’ chief for 35 years.
“The Emergency Corps was like his child,” said Precinct 1 Constable Mike Davis, who joined the CEC in 1990.
“He was more than our leader,” Davis said. “He was a figure of a man you aspired to be.
“What he did for the citizens just made everyone around him want to do the same thing,” Davis said. “He just didn’t turn people down. If he was available, you could count on him.”
Sykes had a long, varied life before he and some buddies in the police reserves formed a weather watch in 1961. He’d been a member of the Corsicana Fire Department and a U.S. Army veteran, he was retired from the Texas Department of Transportation, and was precinct 4 constable for 15 years. He was married to his wife Lorene for more than 60 years. Together, he and Lorene had two children, Keith Sykes and Karen Fincher, and one grandchild, Drew Sykes.
The CEC was just one of the many aspects of James Sykes’ life, but it was the one that brushed up against the most people in this community.
“You couldn’t ask for a nicer guy,” said John Robinson, who volunteered with Sykes in the CEC. “He led by example. He’d never ask you to do something unsafe or that shouldn’t be done. And wherever he saw the need, it was James on the spot.”
Born July 19, 1927 in Dawson, Sykes wed Lorena Brown in 1950, and they are parents of Keith Sykes and Karen Ann Fincher, and grandparents of Drew Sykes. The funeral service will be at 2 p.m. Monday at Calvary Worship Center.
“He was one of the main reasons I stayed in as long as I did,” said Kevin Raymond, a volunteer for the last decade. “He taught me a lot while I was in the Emergency Corps. He taught me what to do, and the right way to do things. He just showed me the right direction as I was coming in. I lost my dad quite a few years back, so James was a father figure to me. I’m going to miss him.
“He was an icon.”
Janet Jacobs may be reached via email at email@example.com. Want to “soundoff” to this article? Email: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com
In April 2011, James Sykes was featured in the Explore magazine, a co-publication of the Corsicana Daily Sun. As part of that inteview, Sykes was asked a series of questions. Here are his answers:
What memory comes to mind when you think of your time in the Emergency Corps? My worst memory from when we ever worked was when that big plane crashed at Dawson in 1968. That was the biggest bunch of bodies. We went out there and blocked all the incoming roads and assisted the DPS and Highway Patrol.
What are your main interests? I am retired from my jobs. I’m not no fisherman or hunter. I am around the house. If I’m not out doing something, I work funerals.
What is your favorite music? County and western- Ernest Tubb and George Jones. I’m an old country boy.
What is your favorite food? My favorite food? I guess you would say anything.
What is your favorite movie? Country and western movies like the old Andy Griffin and John Wayne are my favorite movie stars.
Who is your favorite celebrity? John Wayne would be my favorite movie star.
What do you most enjoy? All these years I always appreciate working with the citizens and public of Navarro County. I just like to do it.
What is your favorite television program? I like the Wheel of Fortune. I like detective movies, they are good. There is a bunch of them I watch. I used to watch Gunsmoke.
What is your favorite vacation spot? I used to like to go to Tennessee, the Grand Ole Opry. I don’t drive much anymore though.
Do you have a favorite sport? I am not really in to sport. I used to when I was constable and when I was a certified peace officer for many years.
Do you have any hobbies? I like going to Roy’s Cafe and visiting with my friends. As far as hunting or being a fisherman, I never really liked it.
What is your favorite childhood memory? When I got old enough to go in the service.
What are you doing with your retirement? Mostly I want to stay as active as I can for the people of Navarro County and Corsicana because I know just about everyone. I have worked with them all for so many years.