The new year brought news of the death of one who had been a vital part of the work of the Evangelical Movement of Wales from its inception, not only as the wife of its first General Secretary, J. Elwyn Davies, but also as a mother, an encourager and an author.
We would like to thank her son, Hywel Meredydd Davies, for the following eulogy which he delivered at her funeral.
It is only right that we as a family should hold a service of thanksgiving in gratitude to the Lord for such a tender hearted mother, and give thanks for every expression of love and care bestowed on her.
The family was very important to our parents and they both enjoyed giving a lively account of the start of their relationship. While she was a student at Bangor University, my mother attended Twrgwyn Chapel, sitting in the gallery with a large group of friends. One Sunday morning she heard that a young student, one Elwyn Davies from Coleg Bala-Bangor, was preaching at Pendref Chapel. She decided to go and listen to him and went to sit in the gallery. To her great surprise, there was no one else there! As my father preached he caught sight of a beautiful young student listening intently from the gallery – and that was the first encounter! From that glance came three generations, seventeen great-grandchildren … and counting!
I could use many different words to summarise my mother´s character. In a recent tribute one niece used five C’s to describe her: Caring, Compassionate, Comforting, Creative, Capable. One of her great-grandchildren was sad on hearing that his great-grandmother was gravely ill, and commented, ‘All great things come to an end!’
Others have spoken of her strength of character, her cheerfulness, and her tender and tranquil spirit, even in the midst of life´s challenges: living with severe rheumatoid arthritis, facing heart-breaking bereavements, periods of depression, and then, towards the end of her life, dementia.
How could she be so positive and cheerful throughout all these trials?
In Seion Chapel, Cwmafan, where we worshipped as a family, I remember often standing beside my mother and singing in Welsh the famous hymn based on the first Psalm:
As a fair planted tree, O Saviour dear,
Green on the banks of living waters clear,
With roots outstretched, unfading leaf, may I
Bear fruit ’neath showers descending from on high.
That I may live secure from every blight,
Beneath the o’erspread wings of Christ the Light.
Unblemished like the olive tree most fair,
Plant of the Spirit with its fruits to bear.
(Translated by L. J. Hopkin James (1912))
This hymn and Psalm 1 sum up for me what lay at the root of my mother’s hopeful spirit, ‘secure from every blight’. Her roots spread along river banks, and Christ’s living water turned her life into something wonderful and beautiful which became a gift and a blessing to so many of us.
One root was her beloved family: her parents, Revd. James and Rachel Humphreys, her brother Gwilym, and her two sisters Ceinwen and Ann, whose families also enriched her life over the years. A root that remained close to her heart was the close-knit and culturally vibrant community of Rhosllanerchrugog where she grew up. Another root was the Welsh language and culture which she studied at Bangor University under Professors Ifor Williams and Thomas Parry, and also many close and dear student friends.
But without a doubt the chief root of her life was her relationship with Jesus Christ her Saviour. He was the lighthouse of her soul, her constant inspiration. The light did not always shine brightly, but was like a lighthouse flashing intermittently through the darkness, yet always present, immutable even when shrouded in fog. Such was my mother’s experience.
She gave an account of how she came to faith in the first chapter of her book Cerddi ac Ysgrifau. She was converted in a retreat in Plas y Nant, Dolgellau, in 1948, through the ministry of my father. She says:
Elwyn led the meeting, guiding us through 1 John 1:8-9: ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ He explained the meaning of the penalty for sin paid for us once and for all on the Cross, and that our place was to yield and accept the Lord Jesus into our hearts.. . . By the end of the retreat a number of us could say with the hymn-writer William Williams, Pantycelyn: ‘But I entrusted all my battles to the one with the most glorious strength.’
And she went on to say, ‘We are now in a new century, but the ‘new life’ that began at that point continues to be the greatest treasure that we possess.’
In her hymn ‘O Arglwydd mae dy gariad’ (O Lord! your love) she says,
I knew I must acknowledge
Thy claim upon my soul,
I saw the truth so clearly
That Christ had made me whole
Again, my Lord, I thank Thee
For Jesu’s saving death;
In thanking Thee, I promise
To serve Thee whilst I’ve breath.
Another precious root in her life over the years was my father’s ministry and his careful and inspired preaching, especially from John’s Gospel.
Shelter and fruit
So what about her influence on us?
A tree can be a blessing in two ways: it offers shelter from the elements and provides fruit. My mother certainly offered shelter and kindness to so many people. She welcomed well-known people into our home – Gladys Aylward, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Prof. Geraint Gruffydd, Richard Wumbrand, Dr J.I. Packer – but more often than not she gave a helping hand to the vulnerable. As if bringing up six children were not enough, without making up beds or laying a place at the table for others! Among them was an eight-year-old boy from Bala who needed a place to stay for a year, and Mrs Williams, a vulnerable neighbour from Merthyr Mawr Rd in Bridgend, who used to walk over to number 116, drawn by the warm welcome – even though my mother had housework and parents-in-law to care for! Then there were the pupils at Sandfields School in Port Talbot, who didn’t always see the value of learning Welsh as a second language, but used to ride their bikes three miles up to our house in Cwmafan to call on their favourite teacher! She also prioritised support for those in need through charities, and was very generous to Tearfund when I worked as Wales Director.
The chief fruit of her life, in my opinion, was her encouraging and positive spirit. My mother was Barnabas in a bonnet! We used to call her ‘the family crane’. On top of a full-time teaching job and supporting my father’s work as General Secretary of the Evangelical Movement of Wales, I’m sure about sixty churches were founded with their encouragement. This added to the burden of my father’s pastoral cares. When dealing with challenges and tensions between people with strong convictions, my mother would offer him gentle and wise advice. Their conversations would last well into the night!
Another fruit of my mother’s encouragement were the thousands of letters and cards she wrote to so many of us over the years, as well as poems to remember significant events in our lives. Her articles and writings are so wise and practical, her hymns so Christ-centred, giving us an honest insight into her life as a Christian. Perhaps that is what enabled her to empathise with people on their own spiritual journeys. Despite her deep convictions, she was never overbearing in sharing her faith, but was willing to walk alongside people to support them on their journey. People seemed to be comfortable in her company as a knowledgeable but practical Christian, following the precepts set out in Proverbs 31 and 1Corinthians 13.
She was witty and full of fun, often with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. Imagine being a student at the University Hall in Bangor in the 1940s during Rag week, and turning up one morning for breakfast along with a hundred other students. The hot breakfast was ready and the canteen full of delicious smells; but that morning there was not a knife, fork or spoon in sight! Mair Eluned had sneaked into the canteen on her own in the early hours of the morning, taken all the cutlery, placed it on a trolley and wheeled it down College Road! The following day she asked the Hall to pay a ransom for the safe return of the utensils, the money to go to local charities.
More recently, I remember going to celebrate her birthday while she was a resident of Llys Morel care home in Penarth. She had no desire to get up and celebrate that morning, although I had booked a table for us at Holm House Hotel. We managed to arrive on time, despite her protests. When asked, ‘Do you want something to drink?’, to my astonishment my mother answered, ‘I wouldn’t mind some white wine!’ As one faithful to the Band of Hope and the Temperance Pledge, I don’t believe I ever saw her drinking alcohol! And for pudding she wanted fruit salad, which was not on the menu! But she enjoyed it and had a good time!
As children we were especially blessed to be brought up in a home where Christian love and values were an integral part of our daily life. We felt completely safe within the circle of our parents’ love. I remember when I was fifteen being invited to a sleepover party by a friend from Ysgol Rhydfelen. I hitchhiked across south Wales to get there, and found myself a witness to the moral licence of the sixties. I stood by the door and thought how the lads would be boasting of their exploits on Monday morning in school. I thought of my parents’ values, the respect for individuals and love within the bounds of marriage. I decided to leave the party and hitchhike all the way home to Cwmafan. What I saw was not a patch on what I experienced at home. Not that I was any better than my friends, but my desire was to emulate my parents’ values. Such a decision faces each child brought up in a Christian home.
A strong root
Looking back upon my mother’s life, one prominent characteristic was her hope. She never indulged in self-pity, nor did she ever refer to her challenges. She never displayed medals gained during the pain of the overwhelming battles she faced. Her frequent message at home was ‘Count your blessings!’
They say that the various roots of an olive tree (referred to in the hymn quoted earlier) are responsible for nourishing specific parts of the tree. As some of the roots die, so do those branches that depend on them for sustenance, while the rest continue to grow. In one sense, an olive tree would seem to be full of knots – and the trials my mother faced had a similar effect on her. But although the tree loses some of its branches, the rest grow on and bear new shoots and branches. I believe that this was my mother’s experience in her final years.
Karen Jennings, the Chaplain at Tŷ Gwyn MHA, said of her: ‘Mair was a beautiful woman and will be greatly missed here. She touched everyone’s heart with her gentleness, kindness, warmth, and encouragement.’
Although my mother’s life was severely constrained in her final years – no knitting, no writing a quick letter or composing a poem, no family to keep her company during Covid, yet one root was certainly her support and comfort: her faith rooted in Christ remained deep, verdant and real until the end. She gained comfort from and responded to each prayer and Bible verses, and to all the hymns to which she listened. There was no doubt that Jesus Christ was the main root that sustained her, and it was our privilege to bear witness to that.
In her poem ‘I Sian yn 50’ (‘To Sian at 50’ – my sister, who lives courageously with Parkinson’s disease) she wrote:
Behold the great secret
Of the spiritual years;
Whilst the body withers,
The immortal soul unfurls
And constantly matures.
We believe that my mother could affirm with the apostle Paul:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
I am writing a portrait of my father – Rev. John Elwyn Davies and collecting people’s memories of him. Namely through his work among students, as a personal adviser, as a preacher or General Secretary of The Evangelical Movement for over forty years. If you have memories of him that you would be willing share please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org