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Obituary - Emyr Jones, 1930-2010

For Emyr Salisbury Jones, education was a means of preserving a vanishing world. Encouraging pupils to bring dead animals into school, and keeping live ones in the classroom, the Anglesey headteacher hoped to pass on his abiding love for rural life.

Born in 1930, he grew up surrounded by the nature, language and traditions of rural Wales. When he was six years old, his father died. The boy was swiftly forced to become a man: a lifelong sense of responsibility began with a need to look after his younger brother and sister.

However, his early life was not without pleasures. He became a keen sportsman, running several marathons and playing in a local football team. He similarly enjoyed his national service, serving as a radiographer in the Sudan.

The army suited him in other ways. He was extraordinarily organised: throughout his life, everything in his house had its proper place, neatly labelled, categorised or annotated. His washing-up brush, for example, was always tied to the kitchen tap, to prevent accidental misplacing.

On discharge, Mr Jones took a teaching certificate at Trinity College, Carmarthen, specialising in Welsh, rural science and PE. Teaching, he believed, would allow him to pass on his love for Welsh rural life to new generations.

His first job was at a primary school in the Anglesey village of Pencarnisiog. Within two years, however, he had moved into secondary education, at nearby Llangefni Comprehensive.

Here, he rapidly built up a reputation for energy and charisma. One rain-sodden lunchtime, pupils lingered, bored and unsettled, in the school hall. Then Mr Jones walked in, carrying a chair. He began to walk on his hands, doing loops around the chair. Then he leapfrogged over the back, flipping into a handstand on the seat, before finally righting himself with a back-flip.

It was during his time at Llangefni that he met Iris Ewing, a local nurse. She was a keen dancer and, overstating his own skills, Mr Jones invited her to go dancing. She was unlikely to have escaped from the evening unbruised. But, ultimately, it did not matter: they married shortly afterwards. Their daughter, Sian, was born in 1954.

Realising that his career would progress more quickly at a primary school, Mr Jones took a job at Ysgol Thomas Ellis in 1957.

But there was another reason for the move. Education, for him, was about taking pupils to the pond on a whim, or spending whole days on his farm, providing detailed instruction in the naming and categorisation of birds and flowers. Primary teaching allowed him to do this.

In the mid-1960s, he took a diploma in education at Liverpool University; this was followed by an MA in 1975. He felt a keen sense of obligation to push himself as far as possible, both professionally and academically: it was his duty, he believed, to make the most of his talents and opportunities.

By 1966, he had been offered the headship of Dwyran Primary. Here, pupils responded particularly well to his nature lessons: Mr Jones was regularly presented with the dead rabbits, hedgehogs and owls that children had discovered near school. On one occasion, however, a child brought a live heron in. It lived there for a week, before the smell forced staff to return it to the wild.

In the early 1970s, Mr Jones returned to Thomas Ellis, this time as head. In the years until his retirement, in 1986, he took class after class of pupils to his 25-acre farm to pick strawberries, pet newborn lambs and learn about bee-keeping.

Though mild-mannered and courteous, he was not a pushover. He held a black belt in judo, and would not hesitate from wading into a fight and dealing firmly with troublemakers. He ran a local youth club, and regularly showed members how to strip down a motorbike.

After retirement, he devoted himself to the maintenance of his farm. His love for Anglesey did not wane with time: he studied history and genealogy, in an effort to keep a vanishing world alive. But, paradoxically, he was also fascinated by new technology. He owned a laptop computer, a digital radio and an MP3 player, each with a carefully annotated instruction booklet.

Emyr Salisbury Jones died on his 80th birthday, March 15.

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