Obituary: Professor Bedwyr Lewis Jones

Sir John Meurig Thomas
Monday 05 October 1992 23:02

'YOUR ROYAL Highness, I doubt if you have ever visited William Street in Cilfynydd. You should. For that ordinary street in a mining village has had quite extraordinary prominence in the honorary degree congregations of this university.' This is how Bedwyr Lewis Jones began his presentation to the Prince of Wales of a candidate for an honorary MA of the University of Wales in July 1991, writes Professor Sir John Meurig Thomas (further to the obituary by D. Ben Rees, 1 September).

'Mr Gwyn Jones . . . is the fifth son of William Street to be honoured in these ceremonies. He follows Sir Geraint Evans, Dr Stuart Burrows, the Right Hon Merlyn Rees and Dr Gareth Owen. In the case of large world-languages like English, French or German, publishing books of information for young readers is a profitable commercial enterprise: authors are paid for writing and editing them. With small languages such as Welsh, things are different . . . the writing of (Welsh) books of information is a labour of love during leisure hours. It is a response to 'duty'. Few have felt that call of duty more strongly than the man who stands at my side this morning.'

Few indeed. Bedwyr was one of them. Your obituary admirably described his numerous scholarly and other achievements. It also reflected his exceptional gifts as a populariser of his subject, Welsh language and literature. Ever since we first met (as members of the staff cricket team at Bangor when we were both assistant lecturers there in 1959) we compared notes on how best to project our respective subjects to the informed but not technically versed layperson. In the early 1960s, while he succeeded to communicate in the villages of the Lleyn Peninsula the romance of the eras in which the early Welsh poets Taliesin and Aneurin flourished, I struggled (in Welsh) with the outlines of modern science to an extra-mural group in Llangefni. Periodically, we compared notes: sometimes while walking along the boundary of the Bangor cricket pitch with its view of Snowdonia. Every New Year's Eve, in the company of our wives, six of us would gather in Moelfre to indulge in philosophical reflection and story-telling. No one could tell a tale like Bedwyr. He possessed Merlin-like qualities which transported us to a timeless period suspended in the mist of Celtic antiquity.

Yet Bedwyr was a realist, as was readily apparent to those who spoke to him in his capacity as Head of Welsh at Bangor, where he developed the managerial skills that are increasingly expected - often at the expense of teaching and research - of present-day heads of department in British universities.

Apart from his numerous memorable lectures at the National Eisteddfod - on topics as varied as the Latin element in Welsh, the Arthurian Legend and the dialects, place names and vocabulary of his beloved Amlwch, where he was brought up - one lecture, in particular, on The Mabinogion, stands out in my memory. It was given in Trinity College, Cambridge, at the joint invitation of the Department of Celtic Studies and the students' Welsh Society. It was a riveting adventure into the world of fantasy and fable, which almost made me wish that I should have been a Celtic scholar not a scientist.

He was sometimes given to exaggeration for the sake of effect, and prone to arouse the ire of his adversaries, but his interventions at committee meetings were invariably significant and well- timed. At the last Joint Planning and Resources Committee meeting of the University of Wales in June, when the Government's view that inspectors ought to be introduced to universities was debated, Bedwyr reflected that he would be reluctant to welcome as his adjudicators those people, now in the inspectorate, whom he had earlier deemed inadequate to be appointed as university teachers and researchers.

At the close of that meeting he called me aside to let me know that one of our 1960s contemporaries at Bangor, the composer William Mathias, was terminally ill. Little did I think when the sad news of Dr Mathias's death came in July, that Bedwyr's, too, would occur in August. Bedwyr Lewis Jones's gifts were many and varied. An erudite and unassuming scholar, a life-enhancing individual, who brought out the best in others, with a wonderful gift of friendship, Bedwyr was a proud Welshman, steeped in his nation's language, culture and heritage, yet outward-looking in a charming, xenophilic way.

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