Obituary: Dr Emyr Wyn Jones

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The Independent Culture
OUTSIDE A long and distinguished career as a heart specialist at hospitals in Liverpool and his prominent roles on committees responsible for the administration of the health service in his native Wales, Emyr Wyn Jones was also a writer and book collector who served on numerous public bodies involved in the cultural life of Wales.

Having taken first class honours in Medicine and Surgery at Liverpool University in 1928, at the age of 21, he became a Doctor of Medicine in 1930, a Member of the Royal College of Physicians in 1933 and a Fellow in 1949. During his training at the London teaching hospitals he carried off a number of prestigious prizes.

His association with the Liverpool Royal Infirmary began in 1928 but he did not join its full-time staff until 1938. From 1945 until his retirement in 1972 he was in charge of the Cardiology Department, but also played a leading role in the hospital's administration and, from 1953, taught medicine at Liverpool University, latterly as Director of Cardiac Studies. He ended his career as Senior Physician at the Liverpool Royal Infirmary and the Regional Cardiac Centre.

In Wales, he served on numerous committees, including those of the Welsh Hospitals Board (1952-74), and as consultant to the North Wales Hospitals, which included those at Bangor, Rhyl and Wrexham (1934-54), he became perhaps the best-known representative of the medical profession in the region. The administrative systems which he was instrumental in setting up in north Wales provided a firm basis for the implementation of the provisions ushered in by the National Health Service in 1948. He was also a keen advocate of the wider use of Welsh in medical circles and, although never active on behalf of any political party, took a stern view of those who denied the claims of Welsh nationality which, in his view, was inextricably bound up with the language.

Emyr Wyn Jones was born at Waunfawr in Caernarvonshire in 1907, the son of a Calvinistic Methodist minister, and received his secondary education at the County School in Caernarvon. His older brother, who had begun to win a reputation as a brilliant pathologist, died at the age of 23, after which it was taken for granted that he would follow the same career. From his parents he inherited the rich Welsh culture of the Lleyn peninsula, in which he found great relief from the rigours of his professional life and to which he often returned in his writings; his last home was at Rhiw, near Aberdaron, almost at the extreme tip of the peninsula.

The violon d'Ingres which gave him greatest pleasure was the writing of local history, in both Welsh and English, and the exploration of the folk-culture associated with medicine. His book Bosworth Field (1984) was published in time for the quincentenary of the battle fought at Market Bosworth in Leicestershire on 22 August 1485. In it he traced the progress of Henry Tudor from his landing-point at Dale in Pembrokeshire through mid-Wales and into England via Shrewsbury, with particular reference to the Welshmen, under Rhys ap Thomas of Dinefwr, who flocked to Henry's banner, brought about the death of Richard III and helped establish a new English dynasty.

The author was especially concerned to elucidate the many references in Welsh poetry to Henry as "the Son of Prophecy" who would restore to the Welsh the sovereignty of the Isle of Britain, a task which he carried out with typical lucidity and a delightfully light touch. He also published a study of John Rowlands of Denbigh, better known as H.M. Stanley, the journalist who found Dr Livingstone at Ujiji in 1871.

His books Ar Ffiniau Meddygaeth ("On the Fringes of Medicine", 1971), Ysgubau'r Meddyg ("The Doctor's Sheaves", 1973), Cynddyn Ddorau ("Reluctant Doors", 1978), Ymgiprys am y Goron ("Competing for the Crown", 1991), Lloffa yn Lleyn ("Rummaging in Lleyn", 1994) and Y Bysedd Cochion a'r Wladfa Cyniaf ("Foxgloves and the First Settlement", 1997) are written in the same elegant style but from a much more personal point of view. They take in not only his experiences as a practising physician and his knowledge of doctors both famous and obscure, but the myths and legends which have accrued to the practice of medicine over the centuries, his keen interest in folklore, both Welsh and Gaelic, in alternative medicine, in hill-walking, and in music.

In the pursuit of the last-named interest, he was particularly well placed in that he and his first wife, Enid, whom he married in 1936, lived from 1942 - when their Liverpool home was damaged by German bombs - at Llansannan in Denbighshire, a village in the Hiraethog hills renowned for its tradition of folk-singing to the accompaniment of the harp. Their home, Llety'r Eos ("The Nightingale's Lodge"), became a meeting-place for poets and musicians, where the ancient traditions of the noson lawen ("merry evening") were maintained with gracious hospitality and a good deal of fun. There, too, he built up a splendid collection of rare books, including the early productions of the Gregynog Press, which was one of the best private libraries in Wales.

Enid Wyn Jones was the sister of the poet Alun Llywelyn-Williams, whose poem "Taith i Lety'r Eos" evokes the cultured atmosphere of the house. She died in 1967 while asleep on board an aeroplane which was bringing her and her husband back from an international YWCA conference in Australia. As part of the grieving process for her, Emyr Wyn Jones edited a memorial volume and a collection of her essays, Cyfaredd Cof ("The Enchantment of Memory", 1970). His second wife, Megan, was the widow of Thomas Jones Pierce, formerly Professor of Welsh History at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth; they married in 1973. She brought to their marriage a vivacity and keen interest in all things Welsh which chimed nicely with his own.

Although a man of temperate judgement and a somewhat reserved personality, who preferred scholarly pursuits to the public arenas in which he spent his professional life, Wyn Jones gave his services to the National Eisteddfod and the Gorsedd of Bards which is closely associated with it, the National Library, the National Museum, the University of Wales, the Welsh National School of Medicine, the Welsh League of Youth, the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, and the Denbighshire Historical Society; he was High Sheriff of his native county in 1947.

During the post-war period he was particularly concerned to see the end of National Service, offering practical advice to those expecting to appear before tribunals because they had refused conscription on grounds of conscience. He also maintained his links with the Welsh life of Liverpool, as President of both the University's Welsh Society and its Medical Students' Society. For his services to Welsh culture he was awarded the honorary degree of LLB by the University of Wales.

A fascinating insight into his views on modern surgery, especially heart transplants and his response to the ethical problems of saving life and the inevitability of death, was given in Welsh during a television interview broadcast in 1971 and published in the symposium Dan Sylw. While not disapproving of the experimental work of Dr Christiaan Barnard, he deplored the publicity surrounding heart transplants and spoke movingly of the relationship between doctor and patient when death is known to be imminent. It was his Quaker faith, with its emphasis on pacifism, the value of silence in the face of the great mysteries, and George Fox's dictum that there is a part of God in all men and women, which sustained him at such moments and, indeed, throughout the greater part of his life.

Meic Stephens

Emyr Wyn Jones, surgeon and writer: born Waunfawr, Caernarvonshire 23 May 1907; Head of the Cardiology Department, Liverpool Royal Infirmary 1945-72; married 1936 Enid Llywelyn-Williams (died 1967; one son, one daughter), 1973 Megan Jones Pierce (one stepson, one stepdaughter); died Bangor, Gwynedd 14 January 1999.