Emrys Evans

'Emrys Midland Bank'

Emrys Evans was the public face of the Midland Bank in Wales. He joined its staff in 1941, shortly before war service with the Royal Navy, returning in 1946 to resume a career which ended only with his retirement in 1984, by which time he had been Senior Regional Director for eight years. So closely was he associated with the bank that he was affectionately known in Wales, where there is a dire shortage of surnames, as Emrys Midland Bank, the title of a programme about him shown on S4C, by a sad coincidence, on the day of his death and which he did not live to see.



William Emrys Evans, banker: born Y Foel, Montgomeryshire 4 April 1924; staff, Midland Bank 1941-67, Assistant General Manager (Agriculture) 1967-72, Regional Director, South Wales 1972-74, Regional Director, Wales 1974-76, Senior Regional Director, Wales 1976-84; CBE 1981; married 1946 Mair Thomas (one daughter); died Dinas Powis, Vale of Glamorgan 18 July 2004.



Emrys Evans was the public face of the Midland Bank in Wales. He joined its staff in 1941, shortly before war service with the Royal Navy, returning in 1946 to resume a career which ended only with his retirement in 1984, by which time he had been Senior Regional Director for eight years. So closely was he associated with the bank that he was affectionately known in Wales, where there is a dire shortage of surnames, as Emrys Midland Bank, the title of a programme about him shown on S4C, by a sad coincidence, on the day of his death and which he did not live to see.

His passing on the very eve of the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show, which is celebrating its centenary year at Builth this week, was a further blow to the public life of Wales, for Evans had served as chairman of the show's board of management since 1999 and its prestige as the premier event in the agricultural community's calendar was one that was close to his heart.

He was not only a banker but also a man devoted to charitable work in a variety of fields. He held more than 50 senior appointments ranging from the chairmanship of the Tenovus Centre of Cancer Research, at Cardiff University and the Kidney Research Unit for Wales to the presidency of the National Eisteddfod and trusteeship of the Children's Hospice for Wales Appeal. There is a hardly a charity with which he was not associated, sometimes from behind the scenes, and for this selfless work he was held in the highest regard in many quarters. He had the ability to concentrate minds and lead from the front whenever money was needed for a good cause. In 1994, when he was 70, he walked from Holyhead to Cardiff in a bid to raise £100,000 for Tenovus.

Emrys Evans was born at Maes-glas, a small farm at Y Foel, on the earthwork that marks the border between the old counties of Montgomeryshire and Merioneth, in 1924. He spoke Welsh with the attractive accent of his native place and the language was always a matter of the utmost importance to him. As Regional Director for Wales of "the listening bank", he was attentive to those who, in the early 1960s, were calling for the wider use of Welsh in banking and was proud to think that the Midland was among the first to introduce bilingual cheques, now accepted by all banks as the norm, before the campaign had started. Such a policy, he had successfully argued, was "good for the bottom line".

After schooling at Llanfair Caereinion, he was called up in 1942 and, two years later, at the age of 20, took part in the D-Day landings, during which he was mentioned in despatches. He and two other radio operators were dropped off the Normandy coast near Arromanches from a motor torpedo boat, a day in advance of the invasion, with orders to report back on enemy troop movements. Hiding on the cliffs, they watched as an armada of boats unloaded their men, vehicles and equipment and the first soldiers fought their way up the beaches. Out of his group of 58, only 10 men survived, an experience that Evans admitted left a permanent scar; he was loath to speak about it and not even his family heard the full story.

His rise in the world of banking was rapid: from working behind the counter at branches in Wales and then in London, where he was posted to Head Office at Poultry, he became Regional Director for South Wales in 1972, then for Wales in 1974, and in 1976 Senior Regional Director. Hand in hand with his professional career went his work with myriad organisations prominent in the business and economic life of Wales. From 1979 to 1981 he was Chairman of the CBI in Wales and from 1982 to 1990 of the Welsh Committee for Economic and Industrial Affairs. Among the projects that gave him most satisfaction was the setting up of business initiative schemes working through the medium of the Welsh language to regenerate areas of industrial and social decline.

His services as a dependable and knowledgeable public servant who never wore his political colours on his sleeve were enlisted by numerous bodies such as Barnardo's, the Welsh Sports Aid Trust, Llandovery College, the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales, the National Playing Fields Association, the Welsh Language Board, the Design Council for Wales and the Prince of Wales Committee. At a local level he found great delight in meetings of the Cardiff Business Club, in regular worship at Ebeneser, a bastion of the Welsh Congregationalist Church in Cardiff which he served as Secretary, and as High Sheriff of Glamorgan in 1985-86. He also played an important role in the affairs of the University of Wales, as Treasurer, and as Chairman of the Council of Swansea University. From 1988 to 1996 he was Treasurer of Mansfield College, Oxford.

Emrys Evans was an approachable man with a sunny temperament who usually regretted having to turn down a request for financial help. In a country where support for things cultural from the commercial sector is uncommon, difficult to secure and not often renewable, he made the Midland Bank (now HSBC) a by-word for an enlightened, generous attitude to the public life of Wales, from which thousands have benefited.

Meic Stephens

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