John Emrys Williams, Willy Welsh, 1929-2023

Our father died on 7 January 2023 and this is the bilingual tribute I paid him at his funeral at Capel Mynydd Seion this morning:

John Emrys Williams, Abergele. Llun / Portrait: Dewi Tannatt Lloyd 1994
John Emrys Williams, Abergele. Llun / Portrait: Dewi Tannatt Lloyd 1994

Teyrnged John Emrys Williams

Dwi’n dychmygu Dad fel hogyn bach yn Llan – Llansanffraid, Glan Conwy – yn droednoeth, yn sleidio ar y mwd ar lan aber yr afon Conwy yn y 1930au. Mae’n dal tryfera yn ei law, yn stabio’r mwd ac yn codi pysgod fflat. Pan oeddwn ni’n blant, nath o ddysgu ni  i wneud hyn hefyd. Dyma’r math o berson oedd Dad. Pasio’r wers ymlaen i eraill.

I Lanrwst aeth o i’r ysgol. Roedd yn gas ganddo’i athrawon a’r regime. Cafodd ei wersi yn Saesneg ac roedd yn rhaid iddo siarad Saesneg yn yr ysgol, er mai Cymraeg oedd ei iaith o. Dychmygwch hynny.

O’r ysgol, aeth i weithio efo’i dad fel saer coed. Wedyn, yn ol yr arfer adeg hynny, cafodd ei gonsgriptio, i’r RAF. Gyda chefnogaeth Chaplain yn RAF Wilmslow cafodd ei gefnogi i ail-afael mewn astudio. Arweiniodd hynny at gyfle i fynd i Goleg yr Ail Gyfle – Harlech – ac wedyn Coleg Normal Bangor i ddod yn athro.

After hating school, Dad started to study while in the RAF. He was  supported to do this by the Chaplain there. This led to his second chance in Coleg Harlech and his research took him into libraries.

It was in the late 1950s that he walked into Colwyn Bay library and fell instantly in love. He’d met the love of his life: our mother Hilary. “I knew, straight away” he’d always say.

Hilary though took more persuading. John tempted her by offering to show her Bangor University Library. It was a date. They went for a coffee afterwards and that was it.

Does neb yn anghofio athro da / No-one forgets a good teacher. Judging by the tributes his ex-pupils have been paying him, and the fact that so many of you are here today, Willy Welsh, as he was known to them, was a great teacher.

Remembering how much he hated his own schooldays in Llanrwst; and how that RAF Chaplain ignited his curiosity to learn for himself a bit later in life, Dad was grateful for this. He always valued education throughout his life. It was fitting that he became a teacher of Welsh – two things that were very close to his heart: Addysg a’r Gymraeg / education and the Welsh language.

John enjoyed a great career as a teacher. He tried hard to do the best by every child. During his years of teaching, he realised that academic achievement wasn’t a school’s only purpose. He worked hard to identify each child’s strength and believed in an all-round education. For example, he set up a nature group. One of his projects was to move a family of badgers from harm’s way, when the A55 Expressway was being built.

It gave Dad great satisfaction to work with Gareth Newman – Emrys ap Iwan’s headteacher in the early 80s. He worked like a tadpole to break down the barriers to every child making the most of their education. For example, they opened a creche at the school for teenage mothers. That was pioneeering back in the 80s. Some of you may have read Gareth Newman’s tribute to his old friend in the Rhyl Journal and the Colwyn Bay Pioneer.

Back home, Gwynedd, Sian and I had a great time as kids with Mum and Dad.

We loved every November 5th. We’d have a bonfire, mum’s homemade treacle toffee, a Guy (straw stuffed down a pair of Dad’s old pyjamas) and fireworks kept in a biscuit tin. Sian reminded me recently of the year when a spark from the bonfire flew into that biscuit tin. It set off the whole night’s supply of fireworks in one go.

O’n ni wrth ein bodd yn gwersylla yng Ngwytherin.

We often went camping to Gwytherin after school
on sunny Friday evenings. Before dusk, we’d tickle trout for breakfast the following morning.

Outside the tent, Mum mixed a tin of baked beans and stewing steak with chilli powder in a billy can over the camp fire for supper. It was delicious. That same tent came in handy when we visited mum’s sister Helen, and her family in Switzerland. Nana and Grandad came too. We, all squeezed into Dad’s old apple green Austin A40 car.

We drove with the tent on the roof rack. All seven of us squeezed – into the car by day, and into the tent by night – on the way to Switzerland.

The chapel and the Welsh language were two things Dad really wanted to pass on to his children. He would often start a conversation in Welsh even if you didn’t speak it. Just ask Sian’s daughters, who introduced him to boyfriends who didn’t speak Welsh.

Tra’n Gadeirydd cyntaf Cymdeithas Tai Gogledd Cymru as North Wales Housing Association Chair he insisted on housing estates having Welsh names.

Roedd o’n fardd. He had a way with words and loved to write poems and limericks. He competed in eisteddfodau, talwrn and Clwb yr Efail.

Dyma un o’i gerddi, Pysgotwr: 

Yn ddyfal gyda’i wialen, Mae’r lord yn castio’i bluen.

Ond serch ei offer drud a’i ach, Gwag ydyw sach yr unben.


Yn gyfrwys gyda’r bachyn, mae’r llanc yn denu’r ‘sgodyn.

Y cortyn main a’r pin a’r pric Sy’n gwneud y tric i’r hogyn.


In the 80s, as Gwynedd, Sian and I left home, my parents made the most of their freedom. They had a great time together travelling. They had a night away almost every month.

Efallai am ei fod yn hoffi mynd i gerdded gymaint, roedd amddiffyn llwybrau cyhoeddus yn basiwn arall i Dad.

As Abergele grew bigger, we saw more and more building of new housing estates. Dad realised, when he saw the plans, that some builders were disregarding public rights of way. And even digging house foundations right across public footpaths. I don’t know how many paths he saved but maybe Dad’s activism has bought benefits to the dog walkers and ramblers of Abergele today.

In 2009 our mother Hilary died. This shook Dad’s world, as it did ours. After many months of grief, Dad adopted mum’s motto of ‘family first’. He didn’t give up and, when he felt down, he asked himself: “what would Hilary have wanted me to do?” In his seat here at Capel Mynydd Seion, he would quietly alter the words of the hymns to express his love for Hilary. This brought him great comfort in the years after mum’s death. She was never far from his heart.

Roedd Dad yn ddall tua diwedd ei oes. Dad’s eyesight deteriorated with age. His eye specialist was Mrs Ranjit. He had fantastic care and friendship from her and her family, for which we’re very grateful.

Because of his National Service in the 50s, Dad was eligible to stay at the Blind Veterans home in Llandudno. He made great friends here. He went climbing and dared to do the Zipwire in Bethesda. The Blind Vets was a place of great support, friendship and comfort for our Dad.

Dad’s sense of adventure took him far. He set off travelling, by bus, train and boats. Travelling Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and was getting ready to travel a bit in England too.

He travelled to see my brother Gwynedd and his wife Jo in Sri Lanka. Dad and I went to Istanbul to see my brother. Dad loved the fijords in Norway and was even pulled by huskies on a sledge when he was well into his 80s.

And when he returned home from his travels, he’d go to Porth Eirias, Colwyn Bay, to tell the tales to Bryn, Levi, Elin David, Aaron and all the staff at that restaurant. A place that was very close to his heart from its opening really. You see, Dad did like the fine things in life. You could tell by the way he dressed.

It’s hard to think of Dad without thinking how much his friends meant to him. Some of you are here now, and I’m sorry I can’t name everyone.

Fe gollodd Robin Jones y llynedd. Robin died last year. They’d been friends since working in the education department together.

Dad loved walking with Dave Morris and friends. They walked hundreds of miles on their Saturday walks over the years. One annual tradition, every FA Cup Final day, was to get an early lift to Pentrefoelas and Dave and Dad walked home in time for kickoff! After Mum died, Megan and Dave Morris invited Dad round for a meal in their home every Monday night. That’s what you call friends!

Gyda’i ffrind annwyl Gwyn, sgwrsiodd Dad am arddio, cefngwlad a cherddi.

Roedd o’n joio mynd am bryd neu goffi gydag Elizabeth.

Eifion a Liz, Sion TV, John Griff, John Ffrancon … too many to mention … chi’n gwybod pwy ‘y chi.

Bill Davies and his family originally from Abergele; Jean and Tudor; Malcolm and Anwen…

Our father felt safe at home in Bryn Awel Avenue. He had many wonderful neighbours and friends who cared for and supported him, such as Nicola, Brian and Elise, Tracey, Zoe..

Nicola and Zoe’s children brought a lot of delight to our father in his later years. Dad had a lot of support in Meddiant from people like Bryn and Siobhan. And Kirsty was special to Dad. This is what helped Dad to stay living independently at home, right until the end. Something he wanted, and that we are so happy about as his family.

When he was admitted to hospital on Boxing Day, the staff at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, and Ward 11, looked after him well. We’re grateful to them and to the NHS for this.

Dad lost his brother Brynmor as a young man many years ago. More recently, his oldest brother Hugh died. Since then, his sister Glenys – who we would often refer to as his twin – was a great friend to our father. Dad, Glenys and her husband Hywel had great days out together. Fel ei blant, dy ni’n diolch ichi Glenys am eich gofal a chariad tuag ato.

Sometimes Dad struggled when his physical health wouldn’t allow him to do the things he’d always enjoyed: walking, travelling and meeting people. He wasn’t a man to sit around. During these times, he took solace in his friends and family.

He was delighted at the news that Ania and Jay are expecting a baby this year.

Catrin and Harry’s children – John’s great grandchildren – Alys, Math (or Matholwch as Dad called him) and Lena, all brought him great joy.

Sian and Keith’s youngest daughter Cara, being a pharmacist, was an inspiration to Taid and he always sought her advice about his medication, being the proud grandfather he was.

Equally, Dad loved spending time with my brother Gwynedd, his wife Jo, and their daughters Ella, Nayha and Ruby. He loved phoning them to hear tales of games of hockey, cycling, Blackburn Rovers and of school and university life.

In Cardiff, John was known as a ‘legend’ by my wife Gwenan, and our children Emily and Daniel.

We were so glad he was able to visit all his grandchildren at their respective universities. This made him very proud and I think he found it really hard not to boast about them.

Mae Gwynedd, Siân a finnau wedi arfer siarad yn ddyddiol gyda Dad ar y ffon. Byddwn ni’n methu’r sgyrsiau hyn.

His principles were firmly grounded in Christian values, which reflected his early years in Llan. He was genuinely interested in people. He’d often have long conversations with homeless people. He asked about some of his homeless friends in Llandudo whilst very poorly in hospital in the last week of his life.

Even though he was registered blind, he always ‘saw’ people, including generations of ex-pupils.

He remembered everything and stopped and talked to people. He was a legend, a giant of a man. Roedd o’n ysbrydoliaeth inni. Roedd o’n gawr John Emrys Williams.

He was an inspiration to us. A long life, well lived. We’ll all miss him and are so proud of him.