Obituary: Professor Bedwyr Lewis Jones
THE DEATH of Bedwyr Lewis Jones has deprived Wales of one of its most endearing scholars and communicators.
Jones was a superb communicator both in his literary work and as a lecturer. Literature meant a great deal to him; it was the basis of culture and he felt that this emphasis was being forgotten by the teachers of Welsh pupils. One of his last pleas was for Welsh language teachers to introduce their pupils to the priceless treasures of Welsh literature.
Jones did just this in his own career. He taught for a year at the grammar school at Dolgellau, near Barmouth on Cardigan Bay, before being made a lecturer at the University College of Wales, Bangor (where he had been a student), in 1959. He was appointed professor and head of the Department of Welsh Language and Literature in 1974, and gathered around him a staff of able and inspiring lecturers who have produced in the last two decades a number of talented prose writers.
Jones believed in bringing the fruits of scholarship to the rank and file interested in poetry and literature. This is why he accepted the invitations to address literary circles and societies throughout Wales as well as from learned societies in England and on the Continent.
Jones had his literary heroes; two in particular intrigued him. One belonged to his beloved Anglesey, the island he knew so well, where he spent his childhood and adolescence in the idyllic surroundings of the village of Llaneilian and where he went to school in Llangefni. This hero was the 18th- century Anglesey poet Goronwy Owen (1723-69) who spent most of his life in exile and who died in Williamsburg, Virginia. Jones wrote at least half a dozen scholarly but interesting articles on him, and just over two years ago he was able to visit the settlements associated with Owen in Virginia. His subsequent lecture on that visit was quite priceless.
The other hero was the 20th-century poet Robert Williams Parry (1884-1956) and Jones's death has denied us the definitive biography that we were eagerly awaiting. He had all the material at hand, some of it had already appeared in journals and in books and also in a short version in English, published in 1972, in the Writers of Wales series. He had also edited a selection of Parry's literary criticism under the title Rhyddiaith R Williams Parry (1974). What we could have expected from the biography was exemplified in a lecture that he gave in 1989 which was subsequently published by the county library of Gwynedd under the title 'Yn Nhal-y-Sarn Ystalwm': Cefndir Cynnar R. Williams Parry. It is a delightful exposition of the early life of one of Wales's greatest poets. But Jones wrote in a fascinating manner on other poets, including Waldo Williams, and, as an Anglican in religion himself, his Yr Hen Bersoniaid Llengar (1963), a study of those cultured 19th-century vicars who revitalised the eisteddfodic tradition, is of enduring value.
The eisteddfod, in its celebration of Welsh culture, meant a great deal to Jones, and he served the National Eisteddfod of Wales faithfully. He was eventually elected president of its council, a task he carried out in an endearing way. It was at the National Eisteddfod at Aberystwyth in the first week of August that many of us saw him for the last time. He was as usual in good spirits, friendly, kind and encouraging. There was only one Bedwyr: Bedwyr the encourager. A few months ago he wrote a kind letter to thank me for the obituaries I had written on Welshmen of letters for the Independent. Little did he or I think that I would be writing his obituary within six months.
To thousands of people, Jones will be remembered as an interpreter of place names. The Department of Welsh at the University College of Wales, Bangor, has had in its history three professors who were experts in this field. The other two were Sir Ifor Williams and Melville Richards whose extensive research has been left to the department. Jones was as knowledgeable as his predecessors and his contribution through articles, printed lectures and his weekly radio programme, Yn Ei Elfen, were illuminating and fascinating for all of us who listened to his masterful detective work.
But scholarship and academic life were not his only interests. He had a long-standing interest in football and he was always proud to boast of his support for Liverpool football club. His article after the 1989 crowd disaster at Hillsborough in a quarterly journal Taliesin, which he edited with his college friend R. Gerallt Jones, was as endearing as any of his prose essays.
Bedwyr inherited from his father Percy Ogwen Jones, a noted editor and journalist in his day, a love for journalism and this can be seen in the articles, letters and essays that he contributed from his student days when he edited with R. Gerallt Jones a short-lived journal Yr Arloeswr ('The Pioneer', 1957-1960). This journal epitomised its title and gave a platform for the new poets such as his colleague Professor Gwyn Thomas. Jones often mentioned his family to us his friends, and his wife Eleri Wynne who shared so many of his interests and concerns. Her work in broadcasting in the last 10 years - since 1987 as member of the board of Channel 4 - has been invaluable.
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