Dewi Wynne Hughes Thomas was an interesting and unique character. At one time in Hirwaun and Aberdare it was sufficient to use one name, Dewi, for everyone to know who you were talking about.
He was born in Cwmbach on 2 March 1925 to parents who both had their roots in West Wales; his father was from Cardiganshire and his mother’s family came from Pembrokeshire. Indeed, Dewi was a Welsh patriot in both his bearing and his language. He was brought up a Baptist, attending Bethany Chapel in Cwmbach, before becoming a member at Ramoth when he moved to Hirwaun. Eventually, he joined the Catholic Church.
After attending the elementary school in Cwmbach, he went to Aberdare Boys County School1 in September 1936 and stayed until February 1941 when he left, initially to a clerical post at Powell Duffryn. However, it being wartime, he decided to join the forces and went into the Royal Air Force, where he trained as a navigator.
Dewi had many happy memories of his time at school, and was a member at some point of the Past Students Association. Significantly, the school was responsible for an important event in his life, for at a joint reunion dance of the Boys and Girls Grammar Schools he met his future wife Josie2. In 1949, Dewi and Josie were married, and together they raised their only child, a daughter Madeleine, who was brought up to be a ‘proper’ Welsh woman.
After the war, he re-trained as a surveyor with the NCB at the School of Mines in Treforest. Following a period with the NCB, Dewi moved to work as a surveyor for the large UK construction company, John Laing, on several major projects in England during the 1950s, including Sizewell B nuclear power station, the Bull Ring in Birmingham, and the M1 motorway. Indeed, Dewi’s daughter recalls that the family took a drive along the M1 on the evening before the Queen officiated at the official opening ceremony in November 1959.
Dewi and his family moved back to Wales in late 1959 and settled in Brecon. There, and until his retirement, he worked as a surveyor in local government, including for the councils of Brecon, Glamorgan, Swansea and Aberdare (or Cynon Valley Borough Council as it came to be in 1974).
However, there was a political side to Dewi. He joined Plaid Cymru in the days when it was less common to do so, in fact before the by-election which returned Gwynfor Evans in Carmarthen in 1966 as the first ever Plaid Cymru Member of Parliament. Dewi can be considered as one of a cadre of pioneers - certainly in the South Wales valleys - that challenged the political grip of the Labour Party. He had a passion for the language and the interests of the people of Wales.
On moving to Tudor Avenue, Hirwaun, in 1963, he became the Plaid’s councillor on the Vaynor and Penderyn Rural District Council (a highly unusual position at the time); and in 1964, he stood as a parliamentary candidate for the Aberdare constituency in the general election, when he lost to Arthur Probert3 (Labour) — but he managed to retain his deposit! 4
During this later period he continued to work as a surveyor and Dewi was active in helping to plan the then new A465 (‘Heads of the Valleys Road’) opened in 1964. But he continued to devote himself to the community he lived in, acting as a warden at Rhigos Youth Club, as Clerk to Penderyn Parish Council and as a loyal member of the Aberdare Cymrodorion.
In 1978, his daughter Madeleine, (by then a lawyer), married Neil Bidder and in due course, they had two sons, Rhys and Patrick. Consequently, Dewi and Josie became proud grandparents. Shortly afterwards, Dewi, in his sixties, decided to turn to the Catholic Church joining the rest of his family in Catholicism.
After retiring around 1990, Dewi and Josie decided to move to Cardiff to be closer to their daughter and her family, and where Dewi took every opportunity to help raise his grandsons, playing tennis and rugby with them. In due course, during the last ten years of her life, his wife Josie suffered ill health. Following her death, Dewi had a few years of travelling the world - to Switzerland, Spain and the USA - before he started to lose his eyesight. Then, with additional health problems, he had to move to Duffryn Ffrwd Manor Nursing Home, Nantgarw – where, we are told, he gave “intensive Welsh lessons for staff in return for the care they gave him.”
Dewi died peacefully, aged 90, at Dyffryn Ffrwd on 28 December 2015. A Requiem Mass was held at the Roman Catholic Church of St Thérèse of Lisieux, Hirwaun, on Monday 11 January 2016 followed by interment at Aberdare Cemetery.
In probably one of the most Welsh services to take place at that church, his grandson, Patrick, read in Welsh and a tribute to his grandfather was given by Rhys. One grandson Patrick is a teacher in London and the other, Rhys, is an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Calon Lân was sung at the beginning of the service, and at the end, Dros Gymru’n Gwlad : two hymns which characterized and summed up the honourable life and valuable contribution of Dewi Wynne Thomas.
Acknowledgements: This appreciation of
the life of Dewi Thomas is based, with permission, on a loose translation of David Leslie
Davies’s article about Dewi in Clochdar No. 257, February, 2016. In turn,
David’s account is informed by information kindly supplied by Dewi’s daughter
Madeleine Bidder, who has also kindly helped with this English language version.
Clochdar is the local Welsh language newspaper, Papur Bro, for Aberdare and district.
CR. 30 July 2016