John Edgar Watkins 20.06.33-16.02.13

A large congregation gathered at Libanus Congregational Church in Ebbw Vale on Monday February 25th for the funeral of John E. Watkins who died in his 80th year.

The service was conducted by Dilwyn Byles, a former colleague and friend, who also delivered the eulogy, and another former colleague, Jeff Davies, who spoke movingly of John

Dilwyn reminded us that although John was born in Cardiff, he grew up, went to school, and spent the greater part of his adult life in Ebbw Vale. Following National Service he joined the Technical Department of the local authority but was attracted to teaching and after training at Caerleon College he joined the staff at Dyffryn Secondary Modern School in Cwm, where he and Dilwyn became colleagues and friends. In 1976 John was appointed to the staff of Ebbw Vale Senior Comprehensive School and there became a colleague of Jeff Davies.

Jeff recalled that his earliest meeting with John was when he, as a Salvationist, sold John a copy of the War Cry in a local pub. They were colleagues for fifteen years until John retired: Jeff said, “John was a conscientious teacher with a genuine love of his subject (Mathematics) and all his pupils, regardless of their level of ability; in fact he had a particular interest in pupils who found difficulty in learning and would engage with them in the same way and with the same commitment as he did with the more gifted pupils with whom he often dealt. John knew how to communicate with young people, something more to do with his natural instincts and personality than with formal teacher training. I confess to often feeling envious of the rapport he was able to strike with his pupils with the minimum of effort. He made every child feel important, instilling in them a sense of self-worth. On reflection I remember that his manner was exactly the same as it was with his colleagues. He was greatly missed when he retired, not only for his academic contribution, but also because of the support he gave to pupils in sport and cultural activities, and there must be hundreds of former pupils who would want to pay tribute to the way in which he contributed to their education and development. He was a fine teacher in every sense of the word.”

Dilwyn Byles recalled that John completed an Open University degree in Mathematics while teaching at the Senior Comprehensive School, but that this did not prevent him enjoying a wide range of cultural activities. Music played a great part in his life, in the Ebbw Vale Operatic Society, as a founder member of the Blaenau Gwent Chorale, the Ebbw Vale Male Choir, the 2010 National Eisteddfod Choir, and latterly Cor-Y-Cymoedd. John was an outstanding producer with the Operatic Society for many years, his planning was meticulous and he spent a great deal of time, effort and skill in constructing scenery. A natural ball-player, John excelled at cricket, rugby, hockey and golf, a game which, in his heyday he made look easy. He was never without partners because everyone enjoyed his skill, his competitive nature, and his company; many of those present in this service are here because of their sporting connections with him. He was held in the highest esteem and many people called him a friend because he was friendly to everyone; people felt comfortable in his company, he was never domineering or assertive, his gentle, accommodating manner was his strength.

For over forty years John shared a loving relationship with Pat and he was welcomed into the Reece family as a son and a brother. They enjoyed travelling together and found great pleasure in a caravan at New Quay where they made many friends, some of whom are here today.

Jeff Davies paid tribute to the zeal and enthusiasm John devoted to the 2010 National Eisteddfod Choir and then its successor Cor-Y-Cymoedd, of which he was secretary up to the time of his death. He will be missed for his organisational skills, his energy, but above all for his friendship and the optimism he injected into the choir. He concluded; “John was a gentleman and a gentle man and I am sure that, like me, you feel it a privilege to have known him. The great English poet John Donne wrote: ‘Each man’s death diminishes me.’ I certainly feel a sense of loss today as I contemplate John’s death."

Dilwyn Byles concluded his tribute to John with a touching tale: “One indication of the esteem and affection in which John was held rests in the fact that a few days after his death Pat received a card and flowers from the ladies at the check-outs at Morrison’s store. I have never heard of such a thing before, but then, I haven’t known many people like John Watkins either.”

© evcgs former pupils 2013