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Obituary: John (JAC) de Garis

Features | Published:

A PROMINENT figure in Guernsey politics during the 1970s, John de Garis, has died aged 98.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, he was at the helm of the Committee for Horticulture during the tomato industry’s most testing decade, which culminated in its demise.

John Abram Cogan de Garis, known to many as JAC, was born in 1921, the eldest of six siblings. His father was John A de Garis, a veteran of the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry who had returned to dairy farming at Les Lohiers, St Saviour’s, with his wife Mary de Cogan.

JAC was a somewhat introverted and studious young man. He attended the Guernsey Intermediate School for Boys then trained as an accountant with Black, Geoghegan & Till in London, where he was distinguished by achieving the highest mark in England for his first-year exams.

On returning to Guernsey, he became managing director of horticultural suppliers Vaudin & Keats Limited.

He then established his own business, growing melons, grapes, tomatoes and cucumbers.

But it was in the flower market that he excelled, producing bulbs and exporting them to the United States, the Netherlands and the UK. He was both experimental and entrepreneurial, interpreting the data he gathered to bring the crops on earlier than his competitors. This included using a converted German bunker to chill the bulbs and he gained national newspaper coverage for daffodils which bloomed exceptionally early, once on 1 January.

He married Helen Brown in 1956 and they had two children, Michele and Jean.

Having been a constable in St Peter’s, John was elected a deputy for the parish in April 1970, and was re-elected in 1973, 1976 and 1979. He was a senior douzenier for some years.

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In 1974 he joined the then most senior States committee, Advisory & Finance, and his other roles included serving on the Board of Health, the Post Office Board and the Electricity Board.

But it was as president of Horticulture that he faced his toughest challenge. High interest rates, supermarket trends, Dutch fuel subsidies and the inability of the tomato industry to modernise in line with its competitors were all factors that undermined Guernsey’s once dominant position.

JAC helped devise and implement a triage system which mitigated the spread of Dutch elm disease across the island and represented Guernsey at Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conferences in Malta and Jamaica.

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Former conseiller John Langlois, who succeeded him as president of Horticulture, recalls that he was an energetic and conscientious politician who paid great attention to detail.

A committed Christian, JAC was a long-standing member of Holy Trinity Church, where he served as church warden at one time.

He had a great fondness for the western parishes and was a patron of the Rocquaine Regatta and an enthusiastic participant in the West Show.

Upon retirement he took up dinghy sailing in Rocquaine Bay.

On hearing this an acquaintance commented that he was very brave, given the treacherous rocks in the area, and asked him what experience he had of navigating the bay.

‘None at all,’ replied JAC. ‘But it’s alright because I only sail at high tide when the rocks have all gone.’

John de Garis was a hard-working man, whether for his employers, himself or the island.

He typified many of the Guernsey politicians of his era – having been successful in business, he committed himself to serving his island without remuneration and quietly got on with the job, leaving a legacy in his many areas of interest.

He is survived by his two children, six grandchildren and a great-grandson.

. A thanksgiving service will take place at Holy Trinity Church at 3pm on Friday.

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