Meirion Lewis had an unusually varied career. Starting as a teacher he progressed through a major events organiser, to CEO of a government agency, a businessman and finally to director of the IoD Wales.
Meirion was born in November 1920 to Edward John Lewis and Gwenllian Lewis (née Davies), proprietors of a corner shop at 18 Bell Street, Trecynon. Also in the family1 was an elder sister Dilys. Their mother was a talented seamstress and an enterprising businesswoman who purchased the shop to provide for the family when her husband, a collier, began to suffer from pneumoconiosis.
He received his primary education at the nearby Park Boys School. Then, in 1933, he transferred to the Aberdare Boys’ County School2 in Trecynon. There he developed his many interests: literary, sporting, artistic, musical and dramatic. In 1937 Meirion took and gained his CWB School Certificate. It was at this time that he applied and was accepted for a course in architecture in London. Fearing that the expense of the course would be too burdensome for his parents, he decided to decline the offer. Instead, like so many other of his contemporaries, he decided to train to become a teacher and consequently went to Borough Road Teacher Training College in London.
Meirion obtained both rugby and tennis colours whilst at Borough Road, however, his studies were interrupted by the outbreak of war, and he soon found himself travelling on the Queen Elizabeth to Iceland with the RAF and then on to Calgary to undergo his flight training. After a particularly cold camping experience on the freezing ice, he was diagnosed with pleurisy, which left him with a weakness in his chest that troubled him throughout his life. During his period of recovery in hospital his squadron was deployed into a battle in which it was completely obliterated; leaving Meirion as one of only two survivors. An experience which left him with survivor’s guilt that never left him.
It was towards the end of his time at the RAF that Meirion attended a St. Valentine’s Dance in Aberdare and was struck by the beauty of a young Air Ministry Inspector from Robertstown, Denzelle Jones3, whom he recognised as a fellow former violinist in the Aberdare Youth Orchestra. Not long afterwards, the two married on 28th December 1944, and in 1950 a baby girl, Rhian, was born to them.
By this time Meirion was a teacher of history and English, having been invited to occupy a temporary position at the Cwmaman Junior School before being transferred to Abercwmboi, then to the Gadlys School and from there he was offered a permanent position at Park Boys Junior School. At this time he became increasingly interested in Economics and enrolled on an economics course as an external student at the University of London.
In 1954 an opportunity arose which changed the direction of his life fundamentally. The National Eisteddfod of Wales was due to be held two years later in 1956, and the Director of Education approached Meirion with the offer of secondment from his teaching post to take on a full-time post of General Secretary to organise the event, together with a large committee of local volunteers. He was flattered to be given the opportunity and accepted willingly. The Eisteddfod was a triumph for the town, the organising committee, and for Meirion; the efficient execution of his duties probably contributed to the next phase of his career.
In 1958 the British Empire and Commonwealth Games were to be held in Cardiff. And so it was that in 1956 he was asked to consider becoming an Officer of the Games - a position which he accepted. His responsibilities included ticketing for all the events, as well as organising accommodation for competitors and visitors to the city. In accepting this post, he made the decision to resign from his teaching post, as well as to leave Aberdare and take up residence in Cardiff.
Meirion’s endeavours at the Empire Games were rewarded in 1958 by the offer of a new post of Secretary of the Development Corporation for Wales, and subsequently in 1968, the offer of the post of Chief Executive and Secretary, a position he occupied for the next fifteen years.
During this period he recognised the need to redirect the Welsh economy with the imminent demise of heavy industry particularly in the Welsh valleys and he was rewarded for his efforts with an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours of 1978. After an enormous amount of globetrotting he persuaded numerous international companies to relocate to and invest in Wales and amongst his many successes were Sony and Panasonic. His vision was one of a vibrant, high-tech Welsh economy and he always drew on Silicon Valley as his inspiration for a Welsh future. Indeed, his association with California led to a year’s appointment there in Palo Alto as the representative of the Welsh Development Agency.
At the 1977 National Eisteddfod of Wales at Wrecsam, Meirion was admitted to the Gorsedd, with the Bardic name 'Meirion Morgannwg.' Even though his professional activities were centred around industrial development, Meirion never lost his love for the Welsh language, its literature and poetry.
After 25 years with the Development Corporation, Meirion retired in 1983 to spend more time relaxing with his family - but it did not work out quite as he imagined. For he was soon to establish his own company ‘Business Development International,’ to provide a range of specialised services for overseas companies proposing to develop a European base.
In 1984, he was appointed deputy chairman of Align-Rite, a subsidiary of a Californian semiconductor group, with a plant in Bridgend. He was also a director of a number of other private companies.
He was then asked to take on a job which was new to Wales, namely the inaugural director of the Institute of Directors, (IoD). He intended to take on the post for three years but ended up doing it for thirteen! He retired from the IoD in 1997, and was consequently awarded the ‘Honorary Fellowship’.
On a personal level, Meirion was very much committed to his wife, daughter, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was also from his early days strongly committed to the Eisteddfod movement and the Welsh language. Indeed the whole family are Welsh speakers.
For the last few year’s of his life Meirion suffered with ill health following a diagnosis of Myasthenia Gravis. His life was prolonged by the excellent work of the Neurology Department at the Heath Hospital in Cardiff.
Meirion died in Llandough Hospital on August 7th, 2013. His funeral took place on August 16th at Cardiff and Vale Crematorium in Barry. Meirion’s wife Denzelle survived her husband by four years. She died at the Forge Nursing Home on September 6th, 2017. Her funeral took place on September 22nd at Cardiff and Glamorgan Memorial Park and Crematorium, Barry.
Some additional photographs
30 April 2019