Editor’s Note: In honor of Richfield Springs marathoner John Sovocool, who died Thursday, May 20, some of his friends collected their thoughts.
This is not John Sovocool’s obituary. And while it will chronicle some of this Renaissance Man’s myriad accomplishments along the journey from his boyhood farm in Leroy to Cornell University, followed by 15 years in the U.S. Air Force, and, after a stint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, finally purchasing Fieldstone Farm Resort (FFR) in Richfield Springs, which he lovingly managed and enhanced until 2020, when his illness forced him and his dear wife, Jeanie, to sell, this will not be a list.
It is, rather, a narrative painting, a collage of the memories and feelings that he has left his close friends. It is our tribute to a friend who touched us.
John was many men, but most of us met him through his passion for long-distance running. Whether out for a casual run with friends or completing marathons in all 50 states, twice finishing five races in five states in five days, John was in heaven when he was on the roads and trails.
And he was equally alive and present on his beloved FFR. Here our friend was stonemason, carpenter, landscaper, businessman, laborer and host. The panoply of colorful plantings that welcomed us to the farm was a pallet as rich and varied and captivating as was John himself. Everywhere was another example of his handiwork: colorful stained-glass lampshades or window ornaments; artisan woodwork, showing skill usually reserved for professional craftsman; he had even built the walls that hugged the gardens and walkways from stone he’d gathered nearby.
But for us, the greatest of John’s creations were his friendships, the roots of which were deep and nourished us all as they grew. As news of his death reached his Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity brothers, emails poured in recalling his “even keel” and his humor, praising his courage as he fought his cancer. This love of John’s indominable spirit, humor, and grace is echoed by all of us who spent so much time with him. One running partner tells of how John’s captivating stories of his missions with the Air Force “melted the freezing snow blowing in their faces;” another told how John never took the shorter or easier path when training, a trait reflected in everything John did. Having broken his toe in the first mile of a difficult trail race, he finished with a smile. He is remembered as a “battler and a competitor.” All remember him as a gentleman. One friend recalls John’s accompanying a Wounded Warrior who had lost a leg, in a marathon around Otsego Lake to commemorate his uncle’s surviving the infamous Bataan Death March. John’s focus was on the “why,” not the “what.” Another remembers listening to John’s wonderful stories after he was no longer able to run, thinking about the life he had lived, the sum total of this man. Importantly, he was one who listened. John was so much to so many, but always he was a great friend. His spirit will run with us forever.