George F. Sydnor, 86, of Bryn Mawr, a former record-holding track champion in high school and college, Radnor Township civil service commissioner, detective, and first Black officer in the Radnor Township Police Department, died Friday, March 18, of cancer at his daughter’s home in Villanova.
Self-disciplined and driven, Mr. Sydnor became Radnor Township’s first Black police officer in 1964 and went on to serve eight of his 15 years on the force as a detective. He was a graduate of the Pennsylvania State Police Academy and the FBI National Academy, and later worked as a private security supervisor at Wyeth Laboratories and West Chester University.
He was also a popular crossing guard in Garrett Hill after his retirement. “We are fortunate to have had someone like George Sydnor represent our RPD family and Radnor community,” police department officials said in a tribute.
Mr. Sydnor was appointed to Radnor’s civil service commission, which oversees the police department, in 1985 and told The Inquirer: “I feel I can give well-balanced decisions because I worked with the police department and with civilian security people. I have a fairly good idea of judging. This is something that is still deep in my heart and something I want to do.”
He was a standout sprinter and quarter-miler at Haverford High School and Villanova University. A member of five sports halls of fame, including those at Haverford and Villanova, he tied the then-world record of 6.1 seconds in the indoor 60-yard dash as a Villanova sophomore in 1956 and was a star on the 1957 Villanova team that some have called the greatest college track team ever.
He was a football all-star running back at Haverford, a high school state track champion in the 100- and 220-yard dashes, and a national high school champion in the indoor 60-yard dash. He earned a track scholarship to Villanova, won dozens of races and championships during a celebrated four-year college career, and just missed a berth in the 1956 U.S. Olympic trials due to a leg injury.
“He was so humble despite his achievements,” said his son Chris. “We didn’t find out about many of them until we were told by someone else.”
A friend wrote in an online tribute: “He was someone we all looked up to.”
Born Sept. 23, 1935, at Bryn Mawr Hospital, Mr. Sydnor was the oldest of eight children. He graduated from Haverford in 1954 and Villanova in 1958 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
He married Connie Lolley, and they raised daughters Wanda and Alycia; sons Skip, Willie, Chris, and Chad; and foster son Manuel A. Howard. His wife died in 2010.
Mr. Sydnor often worked second jobs installing carpets and cleaning churches to earn extra money for his family. He was a member of several police and criminal justice associations and on the boards of the Haverford High School sports hall of fame, Bethel A.M.E. Church Bryn Mawr, Villanova’s academic advancement program, and other groups.
The family welcomed Manuel into their home when he was 2, and Mr. Sydnor “met challenges with optimism and love,” his foster son said. “He made you feel special and important. You felt like you were his main priority when you were with him.”
Mr. Sydnor took his family on memorable trips to Wildwood and the Pocono Mountains, scheduled movie nights on weekends, and spent lots of time watching his children and grandchildren excel in sports. He never raised his voice and always seemed to be smiling.
“He was so friendly, and he loved people,” said daughter Wanda Smith.
“He made you feel comfortable,” said his son Willie. “He had a firm handshake, and he’d look you in the eye.”
A friend wrote in an online tribute: “George Sydnor is one of the finest individuals I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.”
In addition to his children, Mr. Sydnor is survived by 15 grandchildren, one great-granddaughter, two brothers, and a sister. Three brothers and a sister died earlier.
A viewing is to be held from 9 to 11 a.m. Friday, March 25, at Church of the Saviour, 651 North Wayne Ave., Wayne, Pa. 19087. A celebration of life is to follow.
Donations in his name may be made to the Radnor High School Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 8244, Radnor, Pa. 19087.