It was with great sadness on August 24 last that GAA followers in the Athlone area and beyond learned of the death of Artie Pyke after a short illness. Just shy of his 86th birthday, Artie was synonymous with Southern Gaels since the club's foundation in 1973 and before that with the Athlone hurling club.
He won a Leinster minor football medal with Offaly in 1947 and went on to represent the Faithful County in hurling and football at senior level.
Having amassed an array of titles with his home club Tullamore, Artie came to live in Athlone in 1963. He married Maisie Feeney and they had a family of eight children. He captained Athlone to the Westmeath junior hurling title in 1962 at the expense of Glenidan and won a Leinster hurling junior championship with Westmeath the following year.
On the setting up of Southern Gaels hurling club in 1973, Artie was one of its most influential members. A close friend of the late Frank Young, he was instrumental in starting the Street Leagues for juveniles and was consistently a mentor with an array of teams in the club, including serving as selector with the 1986 intermediate championship winning side. Artie served as chairman for six years and was president for the last 19 years.
"If the club was ever stuck, he would always answer the call," Southern Gaels stalwart Kevin Jordan explained.
"Artie and Frank Young were close friends for many years and Paddy McCormack of Beechpark was another great friend. The three of them often went to matches together."
The Beechpark West resident, who ran his own painting and decorating business, regularly transported players to matches and training sessions. "If young lads had no transport to go to county training, Artie would bring them over and wait for the training to be over and then bring them home," Kevin added.
Artie also worked tirelessly with Westmeath as an administrator and a selector. Over the years he was a selector with under 14, 16 and 21 teams that won All-Ireland 'B' and Tony Forristal titles. He was a member of the Westmeath minor board committee for several years and received the Hall of Fame Award from the Westmeath hurling board in 2009. A few years ago, the then Westmeath GAA chairman and fellow Southern Gaels clubman Tom Farrell honoured Artie by appointing him vice-chairman of the county board along with Paddy Flanagan and Kevin Lynch.
In 2011, the Tullamore native was chosen as one of the winners in the Athlone People of the Year Awards in recognition of his years of dedicated service to hurling and for being a positive influence on the lives of young people. Outside of the GAA, he was a member of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, the Beechpark West Residents' Association and the third order of the Franciscan Friars in Athlone.
Artie was a true gentleman who will be a big loss to Southern Gaels club.