Wil Roberts, or Wil Coed as he was universally known, was a well-known figure in Plaid Cymru who died in October 2022. He played an active role in all the party’s campaigns from the nineteen sixties and served as secretary of the Pwllheli branch. Former Plaid Cymru leader Dafydd Wigley delivered the eulogy in his funeral which we publish in full.
Translation of the Funeral Tribute by Dafydd Wigley
to the late Wil Roberts.
I would give anything not to be here today; but nothing would have stopped me from accepting the invitation from Siw and the family, for me to pay this tribute, on behalf of Elinor and myself, to one who was such a friend to us all, in differing ways and at different stages of our lives. He was a very dear friend, whose course is now run; and whose immense contribution to his family, his community and his nation, have now, alas, come to an end.
This morning, our deep condolences go to Siw, to Dewi and Ifan; and to Quentin, who is also part of the family; and to Jordan, Mia and Cai, for whom Wil was a loving Taid; and indeed to all the family. And I know that everyone would want me to thank Siw for the loving care she gave Wil over the years, and particularly in this recent challenging period which they as a family had to face.
Siw has the certainty which she derives from her faith, rooted in this church; and that will be an anchor for her in the storms through which she is living. Siw was, of course, brought up in the Catholic tradition in Cardiff and came under the inspiration of the renowned Father Gregory Fitzgerald; and her faith, together with the Catholic church, have been a strength to Siw down the years.
So may I thank Bishop Emeritus Edwin Regan, for leading us today and for his support to Siw during this recent difficult period; and to everyone associated with this church for their support for Siw and the family; for their kindness towards them; and for their practical help in their time of need. Also, may I thank Archdeacon Andrew Jones for the exceptional support he has given the family.
Siw has asked me to draw attention to the invitation extended to everyone, to join her and the family for a light lunch at Pwllheli Golf Club. The burial will be at Deneio Cemetery after this service; but those who don’t wish to attend the cemetery are welcome to go directly to the Golf Club.
William O Roberts was born on the 23rd December, 1943, the son of J.O, and Catherine Roberts, Cefn Coed Chwilog; and so it was as “Wil Cefn Coed” he was known to everybody, later truncated to “Wil Coed”. His father was manager of the Creamery at Rhydygwystl; and a Caernarfonshire County Councillor.
Many of our generation don’t realize that Wil was one of twins, but sadly his sister died at birth; and it was a miracle that Wil survived. And the family suffered another tragedy, when Wil’s younger brother, Richard, then aged sixteen, was killed in a motor bike accident.
But I am under orders from Siw not to be too sad in my remarks today, rather to remember Wil as a delightfully happy friend, as indeed he was to all of us. I’ll try to obey that request.
After being a pupil at Ysgol Uwchradd Pwllheli, Wil went on to study to be a Vet, at Liverpool university; but while his written work was excellent, he had difficulty with spoken English – a frequent feature amongst children in rural Wales. So he went to work for a year at the Creamery, before going on to the University at Bangor, to study agriculture. He was in the same year as Dafydd Elis Thomas, whom I am glad to see here today.
It was at about that time that I first met Wil. I was working over the summer vacation as Plaid Cymru’s organiser in the Arfon Constituency. I arranged to meet a crowd of young party supporters in Pwllheli – and I handed them a pile of Welsh Nations – Plaid’s English language newspaper – for them to distribute from door to door.
I immediately sensed that I had a problem. Wil and his school friend Osborn Jones (whom I’m also glad to see here today) were both glaring angrily at me.. One of them declared “There are already far too many English papers being read in Pwllheli!” – threatening to leave me with my mountain of unwanted papers. Somehow, a compromise was reached – and Osborn, Wil and I became lifelong friends!
After graduating in Bangor, Wil won a scholarship to take a higher degree, in Agricultural Economics at Aberystwyth. So, naturally, his first job was with the Welsh Agriculture Department in Cardiff. He was in his seventh heaven travelling around the farms in the Vale of Glamorgan – and was surprised to discover how many farmers were still, at that time, Welsh speakers. And the farmers themselves were equally happy to deal with a civil servant who spoke Welsh.
Wil went on to work with the Welsh Folk Museum at St Fagans, with the task of driving around Wales, recording interviews in Welsh with farmers. Those recordings remain some of the treasures of St Fagans up to this day.
Wil was Plaid Cymru to the core; and he had no fear of declaring his allegiance. Despite his stammer, he was willing to knock doors the length of Wales; and wherever there might be a rally, or protest, or byelection, Wil would be there.
By 1970. Wil had met Siw – and guess where they met? Yes, in the romantic location of a Plaid Cymru Constituency Committee in Cardiff. Siw was then sixteen years of age and Wil ten years her senior.
Although still a teenager, Siw was an experienced as a canvasser – and also of selling Welsh Nation papers from door to door in Cardiff. Just as well that Will hadn’t baulked at selling that paper in Cardiff as he had earlier in Pwllheli!
Wil and Siw “became an item” in 1971 – the year Elinor and I moved to live in Merthyr Tydfil; and that’s where I first met Siw. She and Wil came to canvass there in a famous parliamentary byelection and stayed in our home, where it seemed that half of Wales had chosen to camp down. In their sleeping bags, all; across our floors!
Wil had one abiding characteristic: he could sleep anywhere!…so much so, that on one occasion while riding his bike along Lon Goed, he dropped off – to sleep and from his bike – and suffered a nasty accident.
Wil was a person with whom accidents seemed to have an abiding relationship… On one occasion, he smashed his foot severely in a hay harvester. On another occasion, while a schoolboy, he went to play in the fields, and put down his coat, without realizing that a nosy pig was busily eyeing it; and when Wil turned his back, started to devour it for supper. Wil’s mother was not best pleased!
On another occasion, Wil suffered a serious accident while travelling in a car driven by his lifelong friend Geraint Eckley, which, on traversing the brow of a hill, hit black ice and Wil broke his back in three places. Geraint apologises that, for family health reasons, he cannot be here today.
Geraint recalled to me another of Wil’s traits – that he would suddenly get a great idea into his head – and off he would go! One morning, Wil announced to his house-companions in Aberystwyth that he was going to see the great Welsh author and patriot, D J Williams, down in Fishguard. Geraint went with him – and they landed, unannounced, on DJ’s doorstep. They were given a great welcome and Wil became a bosom friends with DJ and visited him in Fishguard half a dozen times before DJ died, to chat with him about his recollections.
But let me return to Wil’s own story. Wil and Siw were married in 1973 at St Peter’s Church , Cardiff – and that was another story worth recalling. Wil had already by then introduced Siw to the Welsh mass at Cowbridge; and it was Welsh language Catholic marriage service which they enjoyed in Cardiff, with the famous Bishop Mullins officiating.
But there were two other officials responsible for organising the wedding ; and they hadn’t discussed which of them was responsible for organising the registrar to be present. During the service, it dawned on them that no registrar was in attendance; Panic! Someone was despatched from the Church to scour the suburbs of Cardiff for an available registrar.
The poor harpist, Eleri Owen, had to improvise on the harp for over half an hour until some deputy registrar was found and the legal niceties of the wedding could be concluded. At long last, Wil and Siw were then declared husband and wife.
After the wedding Wil was due to start a new job, as deputy secretary of the Welsh Black Society in Caernarfon. So off they went on honeymoon – only for Wil to get an urgent message – that his new boss had been taken ill and he was required immediately in Caernarfon. So Wil had a new job, a new home, in a new area,…and a new wife!
Their new home was on a small group of houses in Llandwrog. Their neighbours included Huw Jones (Sain) and Siân; Menna and Ceredig Davies of Gwynedd council; around the corner lived Wil’s old school friend Osborn Jones and Glesni; as did poet Gerallt Lloyd Owen and Alwena. Up the road was Richard Morris Jones and Manon Rhys; and a little further, John and Gwenno Hywyn. What a gallery of 1970s young Welsh talent.
This was quite a change of scene for Siw; but Wil was in his element and in his territory. According to Osborn, Wil was the character who held that diverse group together. Wil had the ability to deal with everyone; he was one of the most likeable people you could ever meet.
It is Siw’s belief that if Wil had his time over again, he would have studied history and Welsh. Wil certainly had a delight in writing, particularly for newspapers. He had a column in Y Cymro on agricultural matters; he wrote for the Herald papers under the name of Thomas Parry (and such was his articulate style, many thought that it was Professor Tom Parry, Principal of Aberystwyth!); and Wil was an active member of the small group which produced the Ddraig Goch and Welsh Nation papers.
This was serious and responsible work; but Wil’s humour found an outlet as he wrote letters to the Herald papers – not in his own name but in that of Twtws Parry of Llandwrog – expressing controversial views that would anger the more respectable residents of the village. No-one could make out who was this Twtws Parry. Only close friends realized that was the name of Wil and Siw’s pet cat!
Wil was also a first class photographer and for a while was the Western Mail’s official photographer in international rugby matches.
Siw and Wil lived in Llandwrog for five years and during that time Wil was appointed estates valuer for Gwynedd Council. They then moved to Wil’s childhood home at Cefn Coed, where they lived for ten years before moving to Yr Ala in Pwllheli where they resided for thirty-six years.
Wil was careful with his money. On one occasion, when he and Siw came down to join me for lunch in the House of Lords, he realized – too late – that he had left his suit at home. Surmising that he would be expected to wear a jacket in the rather grand Peers Dining Room, he visited several shops and was horrified at the prices. He eventually found a charity shop which had a jacket of his size; paid five pounds for it; and no-one noticed.
I can remember as if it was yesterday, when Wil, twenty tears ago, told me on Crewe station that he had just learnt that he was suffering from prostrate cancer. He had clearly been shaken – but took a positive attitude that he wouldn’t allow that condition to define the rest of his life; however long that transpired to be.
However, he retired from Gwynedd Council to give his body every chance to conquer the cancer; and after five years, was given the all-clear.
And so it was that Wil, over the subsequent fifteen years, lived a full life – at home with his family, within the local community in Pwllheli; active with the local Plaid branch; helping Siw with her work for this church; and writing even more – including a tribute to his good friend Ioan Roberts in the book “Cofio Ioan”.
And then, just before the Covid lockdown, cancer struck again. For a time, because of lockdown, he couldn’t access the hospital. He then had several checks – all suggesting that the cancer had gone. But then, in 2020, symptoms returned and Wil suffered a fall at home.
It was feared that he had suffered a stroke; but that wasn’t the case. He had cancer in his spine and he endured protracted treatment at Ysbyty Gwynedd and Glan Clwyd. However in May this year, his spine collapsed and he fell down stairs.
Following that he was in Bryn Beryl hospital for many weeks where he was given outstanding care; and both he and Siw are so grateful to the staff.
When I called at Bryn Beryl to see Wil in July, he was in excellent spirits; chatting with everyone; but yearning to return home to Siw. He made it clear how much he appreciated the visits he had received, and the messages which Siw passed on, wishing him a speedy recovery.
And when Wil returned home in late August, a special bed was placed for him downstairs; and Gwynedd Council were excellent in providing ramps and equipment to help his mobility.
He had great assistance from Jo and Natasha, therapists at Bryn Beryl; and aid from the “Tuag Adref” service from Ysbyty Alltwen, in providing care at home; something Wil and Siw greatly appreciated. And nurses would call, day and night, to help, over the seven week period.
The family wish to pay the highest possible tribute to both the social services and the NHS; and it’s good, and appropriate that this is noted. But there is one special; person who Siw wishes me to name – that’s Bonnie, who many of you will know through her work at Canolfan y Gwystl. She called every night at Wil and Siw’s home, to clean Wil and care for him. Without her help, Siw doubts whether she could have coped. And she did this totally voluntarily: aren’t there some fundamentally good people still around?
I saw Wil for the last time at home in Yr Ala, a fortnight ago, on Wednesday 5th of October. He was in bed, and heavily sedated. But it was possible to conduct a fascinating and purposeful conversation with him; his mind was still very active and his aspirations for Wales as committed as they ever were.
When I mentioned the huge Independence rally in Cardiff the previous Saturday, where I had spoken, his eyes lit up and he was so eager to learn more. And when I told him that I would be presenting a Bill in the House of Lords next Friday, to protect the Welsh Senedd’s devolved powers, he was voluble in his support.
I don’t know whether Wil, at that stage, realized – as Siw had warned me – that he would hardly survive to the end of this month to learn of the outcome of my Bill. I chatted with Wil that day for just half an hour; he was clearly tiring; and the time had come for me to withdraw – but not before he insisted that we shook hands; and he held my hand with a grip more powerful than I ever remember.
None of us know what is our destiny; nor whether we shall ever be allowed to know, after we have left this life, what will happen to our loved ones, to our aspirations; to our community, and to our nation. But if there is any justice in this great scheme of things of which we are a part, Wil’s spirit will be with us in those struggles which we shall have to wage – for the future of our countryside, for social justice, for national freedom, for cultural fulfilment and for international peace.
Wil is with us in each and every one of those campaigns; he will not be forgotten; nor will he be indolent; his memory will fire us in our aspirations; and thereby, he too, will share in their ultimate triumph.
Thank you Wil; blessed is your memory; and rest in peace.
21 October, 2022.