A woman who chose our country

Jon Gower remembers Lowri Gwilym who was lost to Wales this week

Jon Gower is a freelance writer and radio and former BBC Wales Arts and Media Correspondent.

Lowri Gwilym, who died earlier this week aged 55, was a serious-minded, highly conscientious programme maker and later TV commissioner. She won prizes for her art and vision, including the Royal Television Society’s best regional documentary for Y Ffordd Galeta in 1995 and a BAFTA for directing Annwyl Kate, Annwyl Saunders in 1998. Such programmes joined a distinguished roster including Birdman, The Slate, and DEF II as well as outside broadcasts from the National Eisteddfod. All graced her CV. She came to TV prominence as the director of the fly-on-the-wall documentary on student life at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, Aber, in 1986.

Lowri received her primary and secondary education in Libya, Turkey, Cardiff and Turkey, the peregrinating childhood of the child of an academic and writer. She graduated in Welsh from Bangor University, subsequently winning an M.Litt degree from Oxford in Welsh literature. A fluent Italian speaker she later studied and taught at Bologna University.

I first met her in the early eighties when she was a producer for Radio Cymru where she made some of the best radio arts programmes I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear. She seemed like the best read person in broadcasting, and it showed in the stuff she made, with pellucid scripts and solid backbones of ideas.  She made a high profile series about women politicians which broke new ground just as surely as its subjects did in their respective countries.

In creating the long running O Flaen Dy Lygaid – a strand of serious documentaries made by BBC Cymru for S4C – she gave legions of documentary makers the opportunity to hone their craft and the stories they wanted to tell.  She facilitated, without any arrogance or self interest.  She wanted the best for people and got the best from people, rare gifts in a television industry that did not necessarily uphold the same standards.

Had Lowri not followed her career in television she might well have gainfully pursued one in writing, and her poetry was highly regarded. She won first prize at the National Eisteddfod in Maldwyn in 2003 for a collection of original verses under the pen name Dyddgu. Old envelopes in her handbag often bore the signs of someone forever engaged with words and their music, hieroglyphed with trialled lines and rhymes.

She was born in Aberystwyth on 14 October 1954 and grew up in Trefenter, Ceredigion, an area she loved deeply and with memories of happy summers of horse riding on Mynydd Mawr. She returned there to live and divided her time between the village and Cardiff where as a commissioner for S4C she earned a reputation for tireless support and interest in the programmes she instigated.

Because of her love of Trefenter it is not a surprise that she edited her father, Gwyn’s account of life in rural Ceredigion in the book Summer Journal, 1951.’  There had been signs of her engagement with literature right throughout her education, both at grammar school at Ysgol Ardwyn, where she won the chair at the school Eisteddfod, and at university in Bangor, when she won the competition for best protest song at the inter-collegiate Eisteddfod in 1975.

Winning a school essay competition in the early seventies she answered the question ‘What is a Welshman?’ by saying, “I have no right to say who is a Welshman and who is not. All I know is that I am Welsh, and that that is because I want to be Welsh: it is a matter of choice.”

That choice reaped rewards for so many of us. Lowri was a Welsh learner who went on to thoroughly enrich Welsh language culture. She was also fabulously good company. She was bookish, up-to-the-minute in her understanding of Welsh life, though never gossipy in the shallow media way – she was too good for that.  However, she was  always interested in people and what they were up to and what they made.  There is a difference in these approaches, just as she made a difference, to my life and to hundreds of others.

Lowri was a quiet-spoken cultural impresario, a woman of depth and conviction, rare intelligence and easy laughter. Yes, she was serious about things, but she was also lovingly warm. We join her partner Meic and loving sons Ifan and Glyn in beginning life in her absence and with a terrible sense of emptiness, one that will eventually fill with marvellous, sunlit memories of a notably gifted woman and deeply loving mother.

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