WHEN Tamworth publican Daniel Camilleri asked his good mate Danny Egan to join him on a charity mountain bike ride for the local Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service about 14 years ago, he had one piece of advice.
"Just take it easy."
The Ride for the Chopper event was gruelling, taking seven days over hundreds of kilometres, including some rough terrain. What's more, this was Danny's first time participating in the event.
But Mr Camilleri knew he was wasting his breath.
He had known Danny since they were three years old, growing up together in Tamworth. Danny was his oldest friend. So he knew as well as anyone that Danny Egan never took it easy with anything.
"He was just full-on," recalls Mr Camilleri. "He was striving, ambitious, and he always gave 100 per cent, no matter what it was."
He was striving, ambitious, and he always gave 100 per cent, no matter what it was.Daniel Camilleri
Danny Egan took to that mountain bike "like a duck to water".
On the presentation night, Mr Camilleri says, it came time to present a trophy for "King of the Mountain". It was awarded to Danny Egan.
"He held onto the trophy like it was the last thing in his hands," Mr Camilleri says.
Cycling, especially mountain bike riding, had become a passion for Danny Egan. He would ride regularly, to get around, or just for fun.
As his neighbour John Perceval says, "He did many kilometres before you got out of bed. He had an incredible capacity to ride."
Danny Egan also had an incredible capacity to give. Even though he was living in Newcastle, Danny would participate time and again in Ride for the Chopper.
That mountain bike was his vehicle for helping others. He raised thousands of dollars for the helicopter service.
He was well-known for having a pie and beer at the end of a day's ride ... maybe a couple of beers.Barry Walton
"He was well-known for having a pie and beer at the end of a day's ride," says Barry Walton, who worked for the rescue helicopter service and founded Ride for the Chopper in Tamworth. "Maybe a couple of beers."
"He was always encouraging new riders, making sure they got through okay. He was a team man, he was always there for others.
"He was a great rider, a great guy."
Danny Egan, the man who spent so much time on his bicycle, who combined his passion for riding with his compassion and desire to help others, died after falling off his bike on the night of July 10.
The 51-year-old was riding home to Hamilton after being with a couple of mates, watching the State of Origin rugby league match on television at a bar in Newcastle East. He came off his bike while crossing the light rail tracks at the intersection of Scott and Pacific streets.
While he was wearing a helmet, Danny Egan suffered head injuries. He was taken to John Hunter Hospital, where he died.
The circumstances surrounding his fall are still being investigated, but the death of Danny Egan has devastated so many in the community.
He was a husband to Jodie and was a father of three; 13-year-old Joss, Rhyli, 11, and Jedd, who is 9.
"Danny was a wonderful husband and a beautiful Dad, as well as being a genuine friend to almost everyone he met," Jodie Egan has said in a statement.
"If he wasn't involved with the kids at home or in their sporting activities, he would be helping at the school or giving a mate a hand.
"He was the sort of person who could walk into a room full of strangers and have 10 best friends 30 minutes later."
One of those strangers who became a close friend is Bernie Wilson. It was Melbourne Cup evening, 1999, and Bernie was working his first shift as a barman at the Cricketer's Arms Hotel in Cooks Hill.
"I'd never met Danny before, and this bloke comes in, and the best way to describe it is he was like the Tasmanian Devil out of those Looney Tunes cartoons, he was going 100 miles an hour," Mr Wilson recalls.
Danny was the bar manager. It was a second job for him. By day, he was working in finance. He had moved to Newcastle as a young man, making the most of every opportunity. Through the years, he would study as well, accruing extra qualifications, always working to get ahead.
But he always had time for a friend - or to make a new friend - talking with them, helping them, having a laugh with them.
"It was like having a big brother in a way," says Bernie Wilson. "He was the big brother I never had."
It was at the Cricketer's Arms in 1999 that Danny saw Jodie, who was studying in Newcastle. Actually, they had met before; she was also from Tamworth. They became a couple. Just a few weeks ago, they held an anniversary evening, celebrating their 20 years together.
They married in 2003, began their family, and about eight years ago moved to Hamilton.
"He's an amazing man," says John Perceval, initially using the present tense when talking about his neighbour. "Family was very important to him, that was obvious. Building up a perfect nest for his family was very important to him."
Building good relations with neighbours was also important. When the Egans installed a pool, a "hobbit hole" was built in the common fence, so the Perceval kids could come over to swim.
"That gate is permanently open now," John Perceval says. "Losing Danny is such a sad loss for the neighbourhood. He had such an enormous capacity to give. He got so much pleasure from giving, and all you could be was his friend, that's what you could give back."
A farewell for Danny Egan
The neighbourhood is now giving back in many ways. When it became known Danny had died, locals set up a roster to supply meals to the family. The roster was filled within a couple of hours. More than a hundred friends and neighbours have also put their names down to take care of daily errands, drive the kids to activities, whatever is needed.
Helping others wasn't just Danny Egan's passion; it was his job. For the past 18 months, he was executive officer in corporate services and finance for care provider Life Without Barriers. His colleagues have described him as "a rock".
"Danny was incredibly dedicated to Life Without Barriers; he was extremely loyal, and he really did live out our values," says the organisation's John O'Connor. "He was always trying to do his best and trying to do things better. He approached everything with his unique smile and sense of humour."
The smile. It's what people keep referring to.
"I just cannot picture Danny without that smile," says John Perceval.
Jodie Egan refers to her husband as "larger than life". His mate, Bernie Wilson, says Danny's nickname was "Tractor": "He had a massive barrel chest, massive arms."
Those who knew Danny Egan are trying to come to terms with not just his death, but how he died.
"Riding was important to him, safety was important," John Perceval says. "He wore his helmet, and he maintained his bike fastidiously."
Barry Walton, who would regularly ride with Danny Egan, "still can't believe this happened".
"I had my [helicopter service retirement] show on July 5, and Danny came along. We were talking about catching up for a ride in a couple of weeks.
"That's the last I saw him."
On Monday at 10am, Danny Egan will be farewelled with a service at Newcastle City Hall. Friends and family are travelling from far and wide to attend.
As his mate Daniel Camilleri says, "He made himself known to everyone, from all walks of life."
Some may well be wearing cycling jerseys. After all, just like the man with the big smile who is being remembered, those jerseys are colourful. And they are a reminder of all the good that Danny Egan has done.
"The bike riding is just an extension of what he did in life," says Bernie Wilson. "Helping people, helping them out."