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Celebrating Rhodri

13 April 2010

Rhodri Morgan raising a toast to Sir Martin Evans with Vice-Chancellor Dr David GrantRhodri Morgan raising a toast to Sir Martin Evans with Vice-Chancellor Dr David Grant

Arguably Wales’ most recognisable and respected politician, the University will mark Rhodri Morgan’s unique contribution to Welsh cultural and political life with a celebratory dinner in his honour.

Hosted by the University’s Vice-Chancellor Dr David Grant, friends from across the University will come together to celebrate his time as First Minister.

Vice-Chancellor, Dr David Grant said: "Rhodri Morgan’s intellect and amazing capacity to recall information in minute detail, combined with his natural charm, enthusiasm and easy-going personality, endeared him to the Welsh nation.

"One thing that friends and political opponents alike will remember about Rhodri is his undoubted commitment to the social, economic and cultural fabric of Wales and its people.

"This celebration is an opportunity for Cardiff University to pay tribute to him, and celebrate and mark his unique contribution to Wales."

Rhodri Morgan’s associations with the University are longstanding. In an article to celebrate the University’s 125th anniversary he revealed that his father, T J Morgan, got his first job in 1929 as an Assistant Lecturer in the University’s School of Welsh.

Without that job, marriage and raising a family would not have been possible during the tough times in the Wales of the "hungry thirties".

He remembers fondly how, as a child, he would watch his father, on his return to the University after a brief stint at the Ministry of Labour, entertaining the Honours Class in their final year at their house in Radyr.

"I would love handing out the Welsh cakes and the Bara Brith and the rationed tinned salmon sandwiches to the Honours students," he recalled. "I still see some of them now, most notably Brinley Jones, President of the National Library for Wales. A big treat for my brother and me was to go to the Noson Lawen of the Welsh Department students - it was my first introduction to jokes and sketches."

Rhodri Morgan left Wales to undertake studies at Oxford and Harvard universities, but on his return to Cardiff his life-long association with the University continued. It was during his time as MP and then AM for Cardiff West, as Minister for Economic Development and finally as First Minister, that the relationship was cemented.

As First Minister he visited the University regularly and took great pride in the University's achievements.

The biggest tribute the former First Minister paid to the University came in 2009 when he was asked what he was most proud of during his time as First Minister – and his response was the news that Sir Martin Evans had received the Nobel Prize for medicine in 2007.

Sir Martin Evans, now the University's President, said: "During his tenure as First Minister, Rhodri proved a leading advocate for Higher Education and, as a regular visitor to the University, we are particularly proud of the excellent rapport and mutually beneficial working relationship we established with him.

"His support for the world-leading research we undertake at Cardiff University is something we greatly value. It was only right that we help mark his unique contribution to Wales with such an occasion."

The celebratory dinner takes place this week at the University’s Glamorgan Building where Rhodri Morgan will be presented with a celebratory book of photos of his visits to the University during his time as First Minister.

Read what University colleagues have to say about Rhodri Morgan.

Professor Terry Threadgold, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Staff and Diversity said: "I arrived in Wales from Monash University in Victoria in the middle of 1999 and, in a sense, also in the middle of devolution really arriving in Wales.

"So I was here – just – for the controversies leading up to Rhodri Morgan’s appointment as the first First Minister (at least with that title) for Wales in September 2000. My recollection is of a big bear of a man with a shock of grey hair who was outspoken, very ‘straight’ as Australians would say. You always knew where he stood - and very independent of Westminster as Labour leader in Wales.

"Having him out and about in Wales when I arrived here from Australia made me feel very much at home. There was a kind of larrikanism which I recognised and respected. He also of course presided over the Assembly Government’s all party agreement on the statutory duty to promote equality in Wales, a major achievement, as I understand only too well in my current role, and which has produced a distinctive agenda in Wales over the years.

"Rhodri was also always a great supporter of the University and its activities. He had always also done his homework and he was great with people. I have two memories of him at events I was at – one at a high school in Beijing, ‘internationalising’ Wales, and another at the late Geoff Mungham’s funeral. Geoff died when I was head of Journalism. Rhodri knew exactly how to ‘be’ in both places – and that is some accomplishment."

Professor Kevin Morgan, Cardiff School of City and Regional Planning said: "I first met Rhodri when I was a PhD student at Sussex University and he was the chief economic development officer for South Glamorgan County Council, a memorable interview in more ways than one because he had just returned from a lunch-time run and the office was regaled with sweaty kit - running shoes, shorts and vest all drying on the heating system!

"That was in the late '70s and I've been on good terms with ever since, despite that inauspicious start! Looking back on his political career, especially his period as First Minister, I'd say that his popularity derived from one thing above all else - he doesn't have a pretentious bone in his body and that's something that resonates deeply in Wales with people of all parties and none.

"In short, he gave politicians a good name - and in this day and age that's a unique achievement."

Richard Wyn Jones Director, Wales Governance Centre said: "All political careers end in failure. Enoch Powell’s typically world-weary aphorism seems to fit the bill perfectly in these cynical times. But if so then Rhodri Morgan provides the triumphant exception. When he finally stood down after nearly a decade as Wales’s First Minister – the Welsh Prif Weinidog is more subtly appropriate – his approval ratings were almost unfeasibly high. Here was a man that had somehow defied the laws of political gravity. ‘Obamaesque’ was the adjective I reached for when discussing those ratings with the man from Radio Wales; who sniggered…until I pointed out that Obama’s were already plummeting while Rhodri’s continued to soar.

"To the frustration of his colleagues, I’m sure, Rhodri Morgan’s popularity and standing outpaced that of the party he has adorned for so many decades. Partly, I believe, because he became, for the Welsh, a figure that transcended mere partisan boundaries. Rather he came to symbolize those traits that we would like to think as defining national characteristics: intelligent without ever being condescending; down to earth without ever being low; serious but also well-rounded.

"With and through Rhodri, the Welsh people came to embrace a principle about which they have been so reticent for so long, namely ‘home rule’ – to adopt the phraseology of a more romantic age. ‘A fo ben bid bont’ goes the ancient Welsh aphorism. Rhodri was the bridge over which the Welsh electorate travelled to embrace devolution. And because he was the bridge, and they travelled over it, nothing will ever be the same again. Diolch Rhodri."

Louise Casella, Director of Strategic Development said: "One particular memory stands out for me, when Rhodri Morgan was guest of honour at the CBI Wales Annual Dinner in December 2009.

"As well as learning that his favourite biscuit (now a forbidden treat) is a plain chocolate digestive, he shared with the assembled company his highlights from his term as First Minister.

"When asked what had given him most pleasure during that time, he responded "Wales winning the Grand Slam and Sir Martin Evans winning the Nobel Prize.

"It's fantastic that Cardiff University and Sir Martin's ground-breaking work are at the forefront of his thoughts in this way."

Professor Sir Mansel Aylward CB Director, Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research said: "Rhodri Morgan is one of those very few people I have met in life who, irrespective of the topic, can deliver a most engaging, topical, amusing and educative talk at the drop of a hat and to audiences of any size, make up, political persuasion or demeanour.

"Undoubtedly a singular competency for a man who is revered as a statesman whose attributes go well beyond those required of the celebrated politician he is. I have marvelled at the way he jots down a few bullet points on any piece of paper that comes to hand and embarks upon a speech that would rival any over which Cicero would have laboured for many a day.

"Anecdotes tumble from him one after another all relevant to the topic. He conjures facts and data to illustrate his points. The pertinence to Wales and Welsh life and history is always there. Sometimes he wanders into beautiful narratives and one wonders how he is going to return to the thrust of his ending. But he always does and then the relevance of all that has gone before falls simply and directly into place. What a gift! What a pleasure to witness."

Professor Derek Jones - Director, Business and Strategic Partnerships said: "Rhodri has become a great Welsh institution. He has a phenomenal knowledge of Cardiff, its people, history, economy - and sports.

"Having worked with him in government for many years, I still have one burning ambition, which is to remember something about Cardiff that he's forgotten!"

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