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George Brinley Evans: Tributes

16 Oct 2022 4 minute read
George Brinley Evans with fellow writers Alun Richards (left) and Dai Smith (centre), Photo by Kathy de Witt.

Tributes have continued to be paid to the writer and artist George Brinley Evans, who passed away on Friday.

The writer and historian Dai Smith offers this personal account of a rich and generous life, one which seemed to embody the world of the south Wales coalfield:

I last saw George Brinley Evans at the celebratory Memorial meeting held for Hywel Francis this summer in the Onllwyn Welfare Hall. He had made the short journey down the Dulais Valley from his lifetime home in Banwen and, approaching his ninety seventh birthday, physically embodied that world of the South Wales coalfield which the hundreds who had come to mourn the loss of Hywel, its historian, could sense had passed away.

As the celebrants mingled after the eulogies, George, quietly sat alone at the back of the Hall, drew people, friends and admirers, towards him to see how he “was keeping,” to hear his stories, to laugh with him, to share the moment of being in company with him.

Indefinable presence

There was, as ever, an indefinable presence about him. He was as lively and interested, as always, in everything said and everyone met, from old acquaintances encountered to new ones introduced and confessing how delighted they were to meet the man whose writings had so entranced them.

He dismissed any concerned enquiry about his frailty with a wave of the hand and a deprecatorily muttered “Just old age”. Now we must mourn him, too.

I have been lucky enough to know George, via Alun Richards whose literature classes he had attended in the Dove Workshop, for over twenty years. Two decades and more during which we shared platforms in Cardiff and Hay, corresponded, exchanged books and opinions, drank and chuckled, became friends.

Stern toil

In a lifetime of stern toil as a collier, a soldier, a craftsman, he had also secured a close and loving family and created an amazing array of work from paintings to sculptures, from television scripts to two beguiling memoirs of war and peace, and in ‘Boys of Gold’ he produced a consummately fashioned volume of short stories which will assure him a permanent place in the literature of twentieth century Wales.

Courage

George was a remarkably gifted seer and maker, one who overcame odds before which most of us would flinch but which he confronted with the characteristics of courage and insight which imbued all of his work with a vision of the human condition that transcends his place and time. But what a time and place it was. What a man we have lost. What a memory he leaves for us to cherish and honour.

Friendship

The short story writer Patti Webber, who often writes about the same area, found friendship and sound, writerly advice whenever she visited George at his home in Banwen:

George seemed capable of going on forever. He brought the area of Dyffryn Cellwen, Coelbren and the upper reaches of the Swansea Valley to life, painting in the human details so vividly. The tin shed, St. David’s church, which he has always attended, celebrated its longevity alongside his.

Gentle light

His was a reassuring voice and a gentle light has left a small corner of our nation. George was a man who had come to epitomise Banwen and its long history.

A man who made time for me, always welcoming, who would delve into his phenomenal memory and produce snippets of information to delight any reader.

His generosity of spirit was a real inspiration to both family and friends.


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