Obituary: Edward James
Edward Oswald James
Born 29 September 1929, died 15 December 2020
Dad’s life was well documented – largely by him – for which we are so grateful. He also had a range of aliases, as we shall reveal shortly.
Edward/Dad was born at Corner House in Llanelli, the family home and our grandfather’s surgery. The family moved to 17 Goring Rd a while later.
Dad always said that he was a puny child at the outset, but to us he seemed blessed with good health, rhythm, speed, coordination, and dexterity. He also had great eyebrows. Thanks Dad. We are eternally grateful not to be painting them on (particularly Dai).
Dad was born into a family that placed importance on their faith; his grandfather was a Congregational Minister, but the family switched to Church in Wales in due course and then worshipped at All Saints in Goring Road.
Dad’s early life was coloured by the tragically early loss of his father in 1941, when Dad was 11 years old. Oswald Penry James had been unwell for some time, a legacy of rheumatic fever as a child. The surgery was converted into a nursing home so that Nana could deploy her nursing training and experience at Barts to keep her family going, at least until the NHS was established.
Dad said many times that he was a bit of handful and that he got up to all sorts of pranks, including setting fire (accidentally) to a neighbour’s shed – ‘The Devil makes work for idle hands.’ Philip Davies, his best friend since childhood, does not in hindsight think that Dad was that naughty really, but then distance lends enchantment, and Dad did dine out on the stories of his escapades.
Philip knew Dad as Edwi; the name was ‘reborn’ in the 90s over a meal of fish and chips in Llangrannog – and it has stayed in use ever since.
Education-wise, Dad attended Miss Nan Collis’s kindergarten in Goring Rd, then Old Road School, before he began his secondary education at St Michael’s School. He was then sent away to board at Caterham, where his uncle, Ben Phillips, was a School Master. Nana was focused on running the nursing home, and at the time it was felt he might benefit and thrive in a more supported environment.
At Caterham, Dad gained his school colours rugby, hockey, and athletics. Caterham School was not relocated in WW2 because the premises were considered safe enough, however 1944 changed that as the doodlebugs put it firmly in bomb alley. Dad recollected taking one of his school certificate exams during a particular lively phase in hostilities; a doodlebug approached, Dad would do his best impression by blowing a long raspberry. ‘Under your desks!’ was bellowed out by the Second Master, there was an eerie silence, and then a big bang – around a mile away. He maintained that the doodlebug was the reason why he passed his English paper.
He was Senior Prefect, and his initials ‘EO’ were weaved into the chorus of ‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’ by everyone. Dad maintained his connection with Caterham as an old boy and later as President of the Old Caterhamians’ Association. He will be missed by other alumni, including John Mathias, Henry Richards, and others who are with us today.
Dad began his National Service in December 1947, among the last group to enrol under war time conscription conditions. He joined the Welsh Regiment in Cardiff, transferred to Aldershot for basic training and then joined the Royal Army Dental Corps at Sandhurst. He became NCO in charge of No.80 Army Dental Centre until his Class B release. He also played rugby there for the staff 15, (Sandhurst Pirates). There is a theme developing here.
He had considered staying in the army to complete his dental training but ultimately, he worried that he might be in a desk job by midlife rather than seeing patients. While in the army, he was called up for the Berlin Airlift, and he generally made light of this. However, more recently, when one of us disturbed a deep sleep, he awoke confused and in a panic about going to Germany. When asked why he was so concerned, he believed he may not return. This is not a worry that he had mentioned before, but with some quick thinking, we were able to assure him that instead an invitation had arrived from Sandhurst, and the anxiety subsided.
The advantage of wartime conscription was that Dad’s subsequent studies and living costs were funded by the government which made a huge difference to family finances and more importantly allowed Dad to be a student for longer than was necessary. Grandpa James had qualified at Guys in 1924 and Dad followed him to Guys in 1949. ‘Ted’ qualified in 1955 because the incentive to play hospital rugby outweighed the imperative to pass exams the first time around!
He made it into the Guy’s 1st XV in 1950 and he enjoyed 6 seasons at that level, supplemented by playing for Llanelli RFC during holidays. He was awarded University blues in rugby and athletics at a time when the University hospitals were blessed with talented athletes, like Sir Roger Bannister. Peggy Frew recalls hospital days as happy sociable times and Dad, a wonderful friend to Peggy & Keith Frew, Jack Kingston, Derek Lippington and many others.
Dad returned to Llanelli to practice in 1955 and he joined Arthur Davies’s practice, a little before Philip Davies did.
Dad played 2 seasons for Llanelli RFC when he returned home, and he continued his playing days with Llanelli Wanderers until 1960, where for a while, Dad held the Wanderers record for the number of tries in one season – 21.
Llanelli Wanderers has a special place in the hearts of Caroline and Mary as they were often dragged to People’s Park for matches in the 70s when Dad was on medical duty. A particular memory is of being walked through the crowded communal bath area when Dad had an injury to look at! They did not have any clothes on! (Would not happen today…)
Dad needed to take care of his hands for work, so he switched from rugby to hockey and played for Swansea from 1965 to 1967.
Dad had embraced his social and working life on his return home in the 50s, and in 1961 he and Mum became an item; in March 1962, on the island off Lochtyn, in Llangrannog, he asked Mum to marry him. They married on 22 September 1962 and reached their 50th anniversary year. We appeared in due course and we were ever conscious that we were a larger family than most.
It had its advantages though, particularly when practising running passes on Cefn Sidan, and these days we can field a squad of 15 with subs.
Dad came home for lunch every day, which was a bit of a pain for Mum who had to produce two proper meals a day! He also had a nap after lunch before he went back to the surgery, which clearly did him good in the long run. He also developed the knack of being able to switch off completely from the noise of children; it was a trance-like state that we rarely achieve.
Dad had a sweet tooth, and spent his life making up for war time rationing; his love of desserts, cakes and chocolate did not cause him any harm and he maintained his fighting weight.
Dad’s home and professional lives coincided from time to time, as we occasionally had our teeth removed at home in the lounge, and one of us had a cut knee sutured in a dental chair, without anaesthetic!
The team at Davies, Davies & James enjoyed an annual practice outing to locations of interest within a 50 mile or so radius of Llanelli. As kids, it took us a while to cotton on to the fact that some of our family days out were ‘reccies’ for these outings, or alternatively that our trip replicated a journey already taken by the surgery team. The photos of those surgery and family trips are eerily similar (e.g., Llyn Brianne). We also suspect that the James and Davies families purchased cars with 3 rows of seats in the 80s so that only 2 cars were needed for practice outings.
Over time, Dad developed a taste for photography, and a focus on increasingly eclectic subject matter. The photos of the replacement of the water main in Murray St, Llanelli in the early 80s, were particularly special, and may yet find their way onto the Llanelli Unseen Facebook site as they deserve a wider audience.
Dad achieved over 40 years in practice, and ‘retired’ from full time dentistry in 1995. He was made a lifetime member of the British Dental Association in 1990, following his Chairmanship of the Swansea section. Dad was also active in the British Dental Benevolent Fund which took him to London frequently while we were studying and living there. He loved being in London and found the air bracing.
He played tennis and squash at Llanelli Lawn Tennis Club and he was Chairman of the Tournament Committee for the Carmarthenshire Championships at one point, and Club President. His umpiring at Llanelli Lawn tennis Club prompted an application to umpire at Wimbledon at a time when match officials were in short supply. He officiated at Wimbledon from 1961 to 1986, and he umpired Wimbledon doubles finals in 1977 and 1979. The infamous McEnroe match was in 1981, and what can we say? Dad is immortalized by a few moments of TV coverage. It has had over a million hits on You Tube since and there are not too many Grampas who have achieved this. He was known for a while as ‘Grampa on the telly’, to differentiate him from the other grandfather.
Behind the scenes, Dad was Dental Surgeon for Llanelli RFC from 1971 and President from 1994 to 1997. At events around Llanelli, it was quite something to be introduced to strangers as the President’s son or daughter.
Dad was appointed as a Justice of the Peace in July 1974 and he was Chairman of the Llanelli Petty Division, dispensing gentle guidance. Except when close friends of his children would make an appearance and he would quietly inform the clerk of the court & excuse himself from the bench. Caroline waved at the person in question at this point!
He was a founder member and President of the Cefn Sidan Rotary Club.
He was an active member of St Illtyd’s church in Pembrey until his mobility issues made it difficult to attend services.
Dad was out of the house a great deal and you might wonder if he had any spare time? When he did, he spent it in the garden, trying out his many horticultural gadgets. One of our lasting memories will be of Dad in his gardening gear – a red woolly hat, and a string tied around his waist to keep his coat together. We asked him once if he liked gardening, and he gestured with his arms at the space around him and said, ‘I have to like gardening’…. He secretly had a Forrest Gump like enthusiasm for cutting grass on a ride on mower.
We were lucky to grow up in such a wonderful home.
Dad’s life changed when Mum’s health deteriorated, and he took care of her with the support of the wonderful Elaine.
He was lonely after she died and we are so grateful that Elaine continued to support him at home, and when he moved to Towy Castle. In May 2017, Dad sustained an unstable neck fracture and for a couple of agonizing weeks, we thought he might be leaving us. Thankfully, his fighting spirit and a will to live overcame, but he was not fit enough to return home which was a huge sadness to him.
However, we found in Towy Castle, a lovely environment and wonderful people who have cared for Dad magnificently over the last 3 years. We cannot thank the team at TC enough for what they have done for Dad. Hannah, Sharon, Pauline, and the team – you have been amazing.
Dad’s life was enriched by his long-standing friendships, a wide network of acquaintances and the love of his close and extended family. His story would not be complete without a particular mention of his sister Audrey. They went through a lot as children/teenagers and Audrey, a girly swot, coached him through key exams. They kept each other grounded, danced beautifully together, spoke every week, and both lived into their 92nd year – amazing really. For us, it has been the best possible example of the importance of siblings to each other, and we hope that we are doing a good job of following their lead. Dad was also a fond uncle to Libby, Helen, Thomas and Mark, and godfather to Richard who is here with us, and to Alexandra who is watching.
He was not there for our births and he did not do nappies, but he could cook fishfingers and sausages, and he opened the bar at a reasonable hour, so we cannot complain!
More importantly, he was kind, diplomatic, professional, a good conversationalist, and more interested in what others had to say than imposing his view. He had a great sense of humour and a strong work ethic.
We shall miss him holding court at mealtimes, telling stories, relaying jokes, reciting long passages from literature and of poetry, humming tunes as he walked around the house, tolerating giggling girls, sharing his views on the game of rugby, and his beautiful tenor voice. Above all we shall miss him just ‘being there’.
Finally, thank you to those who have made it to the service in these strange times, and to those who are listening into the webcast. It is a huge comfort to know that Dad has had a positive impact on the lives of so many close friends and acquaintances, and we are so proud of him. Our only regrets are that we have not seen as much of him recently as we had wished or been able to celebrate his life properly in this moment of grief. We hope to give thanks for his life more convivially later this year when we have all been vaccinated and our freedoms have returned.
Love you Dad.
C, M, S & D