When Bobi Jones passed the scholarship at the age of 11, he began to attend Cathays School in Cardiff and made a little decision that changed his whole life. What languages to take? He had to choose two of French, Latin, and Welsh. Bobi came from a totally English-speaking home and so chose French and Latin. But the Welsh master challenged his choice, persuaded Bobi to learn Welsh, and he loved it from the start. In time he became the most prodigious Welsh scholar Wales has ever known.
Bobi achieved a first-class degree from Cardiff University and an M.A. from Dublin. He married Beti James of Glynderwen, a blacksmith’s daughter. He began his career teaching Welsh in Llanidloes. There, quite suddenly, he received assurance of his interest in the Saviour’s blood, at the Lord’s Supper. He was henceforth self-consciously a Christian, a disciple of Jesus Christ.
In 1958 Bobi moved to Aberystwyth University, joining the Welsh department. I was subsequently called there as minister in 1965, and I looked with awe at the flow of books that came from his pen (they were all hand-written); novels, short stories, children’s books, poems, hymn translations and books of literary criticism. He wrote monthly columns in the prestigious Welsh journal, Barn, and regularly in the Welsh-language Evangelical Magazine. All this was done while running a university department, lecturing, marking papers and superintending Ph.D. students. He even taught Prince Charles the history of Wales, one-to-one each day for more than a month.
Bobi came to specialise in the methodology of teaching Welsh to adults. He played a pioneering and inspirational role in this for many years. He longed for a mass movement similar to the Ulpan scheme which the modern state of Israel had adopted so successfully that Hebrew was restored to Israel.
Bobi and Beti were deeply concerned as modernistic unbelief was unresisted in Salem Calvinistic Methodist church in Aberystwyth. By 1967 it became clear it was time to secede from the ‘Old Body’. Eglwys Efengylaidd, Aberystwyth has just celebrated its golden jubilee.
In 1968 a ‘poetry Olympics’ conference in Mexico City was organised to coincide with the Olympic Games, and Bobi was chosen to represent Wales. On the plane he had something like a heart attack and was at death’s door for some time. One of the air-stewardesses had trained as a nurse in a heart ward and her know-how was vital in saving his life. From this experience he wrote a poem-saga; death hammering on the door to be let in, and God declaring, ‘No’.
Bobi suffered with a spinal complaint for the last twenty years of his life. He was unable to sit and so stood or lay down. He never complained, but in the last month a cancer spread. He recovered remarkably from one major operation and two weeks before his death he was in church.
In all Bobi wrote over one hundred books in the Welsh language, the most that anyone has ever written. Amongst his last major works was one on biblical infallibility and another on the Welsh hymnist, William Williams Pantycelyn. Right to the end of his life, every day, he was writing. We’ll end with his translation of a William Williams hymn:
Jesus, Jesus, all-sufficient,
Beyond telling is Thy worth;
In Thy Name lie greater treasures
Than the richest found on earth.
Is my portion with my God.
In Thy gracious face there’s beauty
Far surpassing everything
Found in all the earth’s great wonders
Mortal eye hath never seen.
Rose of Sharon,
Thou Thyself art heaven’s delight.