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Sir Maldwyn Thomas - A tribute, by Winston Roddick Q.C.

July 10, 2007 7:18 PM

This tribute to the late Sir Maldwyn Thomas, a former Liberal parliamentary candidate, President of the Welsh Liberal Party and the first President of the Lloyd George Society, is the text of a talk given at a meeting of the Lloyd George Society held in February 2003.

It is copyright and no part of it may be reproduced without the permission of the author or the Society.

Mr President, Annwyl Gyfeillon. Thank you for inviting me to give this address in memory and in appreciation of our good friend Maldwyn.

Paying tribute to a great person is an honour. Paying tribute to a good friend is a heavy burden.

Ever since Bill Barritt invited me to deliver this address, I have been trying to place Maldwyn; place him that is in the sense of where he left his mark on our lives. The fact is that he made a number of marks, all of them enduring.

There were three interwoven aspects to his life, the law, politics, and that in which he made a pre-eminent contribution namely business. But overlaying these three strands were his traditional Welsh values (including the influence of the chapel), which, probably, are the key to understanding his achievements and his personality. I would like to begin, therefore, if I may, with his background and the professional side of his life. Then I shall say something about the politics and I shall conclude with aspects of his personal life.

Maldwyn was brought up in South Wales in a close happy Welsh non-conformist Liberal family. He attended the Grammar School at Porth in the Rhondda but because of family circumstances he did not go to University. He did, however, dedicate himself to learning and to acquiring professional qualifications through home study.

He qualified as a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries and in 1953 he was called to the bar by Grays Inn. He did not practise as a barrister but it was with these qualifications that he joined the Atomic Energy authority which was his first taste of working for a large corporation.

Later as one legal qualification was not enough for him, he qualified as a solicitor and joined a small private practice in North Wales in which he practised until 1964 when his world changed. The changes, which were to happen to his life from 1964 onwards, were spectacular to say the least.

In 1964 he joined Rank Xerox as a legal adviser and company secretary just as that Company was taking off. He was therefore, in at the beginning of the enormous development and progression of that great Company. In a record breaking eight years Maldwyn rose from company secretary to director to managing director, chairman and chief executive - to the very top in eight years.

In measuring this achievement, you must realise that Rank Xerox was an amalgam of British and American influence. The British side was Rank and Xerox was the American side. Rank held 51% of the vote and Xerox 49%. You will realise from that fact that to have impressed the Americans our Maldwyn must have had something quite special.

And it is in this part of the narrative that we begin to see the real Maldwyn.

Before I identify what I believe to be those special qualities, which marked him out, I would like to tell you a story. It is one in which Maldwyn, in a period of minutes, moved from the background in Rank Xerox to the very front.

The story takes place when Maldwyn was the company secretary of Rank Xerox. The Company was troubled by the different treatment for revenue purposes of "photographic" documents and "printed" documents - a difference which had significant consequences as to the Company's liabilities for tax in the U.K. and the E.U. Maldwyn asked Emlyn Hooson who was then in the House of Commons, if he could arrange a meeting between representatives of the Company and the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. Emlyn phoned Neil McDermott QC who was then the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (he later became Solicitor General). McDermott said he would meet the Company provided Emlyn himself was present. At the meeting the Chief Executive of the Company spoke on its behalf. It is not necessary that I should tell you his name but it is necessary for a proper understanding of the story that you should know that he was arrogant and pompous. Seated behind him were Emlyn Hooson, Maldwyn and two directors of Xerox - two Americans who had come especially for the meeting. These two American directors, as it happened, were the sons of non-conformist ministers! The Chief Executive (who was also the Chairman) appeared not to have mastered his brief and he spoke down at Neil Mcdermott. In no time at all, Mcdermott, with his incisive questioning, had destroyed the Chief Executive's arguments and concluded the discussion with the words "That's that then". The meeting was about to break up when Maldwyn, in his very modest manner, spoke up:

"I wonder, Financial secretary, if I might say a few words which might be of assistance to you" You can both see and hear Maldwyn in that line, can't you? Within a few minutes, Maldwyn had turned Neil McDermott comprehensively and McDermott was clearly impressed.

The two Americans said to Emlyn as they left the meeting, "Gee, wasn't our Mal great!"

By the end of the following week, Rank Xerox had a new managing director - Maldwyn - and the Chief Executive became Chairman. Shortly afterwards, Mal was made Chairman as well as managing director. He later acquired the responsibilities of the Chief Executive, as well. The whole operation followed the decision of the American directors to obtain dominant voting rights following that meeting.

What then were Maldwyn's qualities? I would not place him amongst the World's best planners. As he himself once said "whilst I can honestly say I have never had a plan in my career, the one thing I tried hardest to organise - to be a practising lawyer - did not work."

We are the sum of our attributes. Maldwyn's attributes were sound judgement, wisdom, shrewdness and a highly intelligent and incisive mind but what made him so convincing and appealing was his modesty and humility. And we should not leave out of account his considerable sense of humour.

Maldwyn was someone to whom funny things, as well as great things, happened. I will tell this next story of a funny coincidence using his own words.

"On the day that I joined the army in Port Talbot in 1939, another young man with exactly the same names was joining the same outfit - the 38th Company of the 53rd Welsh Division, RASC. From the first day his number and mine were mixed, so when I had to go into hospital his mother came to see me. And when I was discharged, it was to go back to my trade as a boilermaker."

My other story is of our visit to Blackpool. Maldwyn and I decided to go to the Party Conference in Blackpool. It was a late decision and, consequently, none of the hotels, which Maldwyn would have regarded as fitting his station in life, were available. So we had to rely on the conference manager's office to find us somewhere to stay.

We arrived in style in Maldwyn's Bentley but I can tell you that that was the end of the style. It was a typical Blackpool B &B - 'no star' run by a typical Blackpool landlady. The contrast between her and Maldwyn could not have been greater. The bedroom consisted of one single bed, one camp bed and one wardrobe without a door.

Despite all his humility you can guess who had the camp bed.

The toilet was outside the bedroom and you could not open the bedroom door without moving the camp bed. At 4 a.m. - Maldwyn woke me up. It was dark.

"Winston"

"Winston"

" Yes Maldwyn?"

"I want to go to the bathroom"

"Why are you telling me Maldwyn?"

I can't open the door unless you move the camp bed"

So I got out of bed and stood there holding the bed in front of me.

Maldwyn re-entered the room by opening the door with such force as to push the camp bed and me into the wardrobe. The next thing I heard was Maldwyn looking round the room and saying "Winston - where are you?" - Happy days.

Politics is an interest with which he was born. He was born into a Liberal family, as I said earlier. His mother was very active in the Liberal Party and during this period whilst he was living in Porthcawl but working in Cardiff and later Swansea he was a Liberal councillor in Porthcawl and a deacon and the secretary of the Tabernacle chapel in Porthcawl. By this time, he had developed his secretarial skills and had developed his political interests to the extent of wishing to be an M.P. He became a member of the executive of the Welsh Liberal Party and then in 1950 he contested the Aberavon seat.

When he was appointed to Rank Xerox in 1964 he was already prospective candidate for the Liberal Party in West Flint. Nursing and cultivating that constituency from London to which he would be moving in his Rank Xerox role would not have been possible.

Those circumstances gave birth to a new and lasting friendship between Maldwyn and the then young Martin Thomas who agreed to take over the seat from Maldwyn. That marked the end of Maldwyn's active involvement in Liberal Politics until he returned from his retirement in Bermuda in 1984.

In the late forties - early fifties Emlyn Hooson, Glyn Tegai Hughes, Maldwyn and his sister Mair had set up the first of the series of Welsh Liberal Weekend Schools at Pantyfedwen. On his return from Bermuda, Maldwyn brought together a group of young Welsh Liberals to resuscitate the Weekend Schools. You will recognise their names - John Roberts, Helen Hughes, Cathy Lloyd, Judith Trefor Thomas, Judy Lewis and Christopher Davies. They would meet regularly at Maldwyn's very stylish London home. Christopher Davies tells a story which, to me, sums up Maldwyn. In the lounge of his London home he had a Bechstein grand piano, a sign of success and wealth, but on its music stand was "Y Detholiad" - the Welsh Hymn Book: grandness and roots side by side.

Those Liberal Weekend Schools became the Lloyd George Society of which Maldwyn was the first President.

In 1984 he was knighted for his considerable work and support for the Liberal Party in Wales and generally. That was a key date for us but the key date for him was 1975 when he married his lovely, adorable Maureen - who cannot be with us today but I am sure that the society is thinking of her at this moment.

As well as becoming President of the Welsh Liberal Party and President of the Week end Schools, Maldwyn made a much wider contribution. He became President of the London Welsh Association, a trustee of London's Welsh School and chairman of the Glamorgan Society. He was also a devoted member of Tabernacle Chapel at King's Cross. These were aspects of his life in London to which he took his commitment to Wales and its values.

They say we send to London our teachers to educate it, our preachers to save it, our politicians to govern it, and the dairymen of Cardigan to milk it. I believe Maldwyn went there to civilise it.

In conclusion then this is my pen picture of this mild and gentle giant. He was a leader who served as well as he led. He did not permit his fame, fortune or status to turn his head. He acknowledged his luck in life. Less than a year before he died, he said, " I have had a magnificent life".

He was committed to his principles and devoted to his Maureen and his sister Mair. He enjoyed his faith and his chapel. In his tribute to him, the Reverend Gareth Roberts said "Yr oedd yr holl aelodau yn meddwl y byd ohono". ("The whole congregation thought the World of him").

I cannot think of a better testimonial with which to depart this life.