‘STEFF IN­SPIRED US EV­ERY DAY’

Mov­ing tributes paid to Plaid AM

Western Mail - - FRONT PAGE - MARTIN SHIPTON Chief re­porter [email protected]­line.co.uk

PLAID Cymru AM St­ef­fan Lewis, re­garded as one of the bright­est Welsh politi­cians of his gen­er­a­tion, has died of cancer at the age of 34.

He leaves his widow, Shona, and his three-year-old son, Ce­lyn.

Mr Lewis, who had rep­re­sented South Wales East since 2016, passed away qui­etly at Ys­byty Ystrad Fawr in Ystrad My­nach.

A state­ment is­sued by Plaid on be­half of his fam­ily said: “To lose Steff is the great­est pos­si­ble blow to our fam­ily and we know that there are peo­ple through­out Wales who share our sense of loss. Steff in­spired us ev­ery day. He was our rock, he was our an­chor and most cer­tainly, our hero. Above all St­ef­fan was a lov­ing hus­band, fa­ther, son and brother.

“Steff fought this dis­ease with the same courage and de­ter­mi­na­tion that he ap­plied to his pol­i­tics, and even when he was in great pain and dis­com­fort he con­tin­ued to serve the peo­ple he so dearly loved to rep­re­sent. We will en­sure that his legacy will live on for­ever – in our com­mu­nity, in our hearts and above all through his son, the lit­tle boy he adored, Ce­lyn. Wales will not for­get his con­tri­bu­tion and his de­ter­mi­na­tion to make a dif­fer­ence to peo­ple’s lives.

“We would like to thank all those in the NHS who cared for St­ef­fan dur­ing his ill­ness, and in par­tic­u­lar the staff of Ystrad Fawr Hos­pi­tal and his on­col­o­gist, Dr Hi­lary Wil­liams from Velin­dre Cancer Cen­tre.”

Pay­ing trib­ute to his friend and col­league, Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price said: “My heart­felt con­do­lences go out to St­ef­fan’s fam­ily at this tragic time. St­ef­fan was beloved by his friends in Plaid Cymru and we are in a state of shock and grief at los­ing our very bright­est star. He will be re­mem­bered as a politi­cian of rare ta­lent who achieved an in­cred­i­ble amount dur­ing his time in elected of­fice, which has been cut short in such har­row­ing cir­cum­stances.

“His pow­ers of rea­son­ing and in­tel­lect were matched only by his ca­pac­ity for com­pas­sion – even while suf­fer­ing ill­ness, St­ef­fan per­sisted in pri­ori­tis­ing the wel­fare of other peo­ple by speak­ing openly about his dif­fi­cult ex­pe­ri­ences while all the time con­tin­u­ing to work on be­half of his na­tion and con­stituents.

“I can­not be­gin to ex­press our sense of loss and how much we will miss hav­ing St­ef­fan in our lives. His legacy will for­ever be re­mem­bered in the his­tory of Plaid Cymru and the Welsh na­tion.”

Mr Price added: “St­ef­fan first ad­dressed a Plaid Cymru con­fer­ence at the age of 14. It was clear at that point that this was some­body that was go­ing to have a big im­pact on the life of the na­tion. From that mo­ment, St­ef­fan de­voted his life to his dream of a free and in­de­pen­dent Wales. In our last con­ver­sa­tion this week he shared with me his con­fi­dence that his dream would be re­alised and urged us to do all that we can to bring the day closer.

“St­ef­fan ded­i­cated his work­ing life to the task of help­ing oth­ers and was able to do so with ex­cep­tional abil­ity due to his as­ton­ish­ing breadth of tal­ents.

“From cam­paign­ing on be­half of for­mer min­ers’ pen­sion rights to sav­ing health ser­vices in his re­gion, ev­ery­body knew that St­ef­fan was a for­mi­da­ble rep­re­sen­ta­tive to have on their side who would never let them down. In terms of his port­fo­lio re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, he suc­ceeded in di­rect­ing Welsh Gov­ern­ment pol­icy on Brexit on no less than three oc­ca­sions.

“Firstly, he co-au­thored the Welsh Gov­ern­ment Brexit White Pa­per, Se­cur­ing Wales’ Fu­ture. He then in­tro­duced ground-break­ing con­ti­nu­ity leg­is­la­tion to pre­vent the West­min­ster power-grab which even­tu­ally led to the In­ter-gov­ern­men­tal Agree­ment. And only last month he suc­ceeded in per­suad­ing the Welsh Gov­ern­ment to sup­port his amend­ment to their own Brexit mo­tion.

“I can’t think of any other politi­cian in any par­lia­ment who suc­ceeded in di­rect­ing gov­ern­ment pol­icy on the great is­sue of the day to such an ex­tent from the op­po­si­tion benches. That only be­gins to re­flect the great­ness of his char­ac­ter. He was pop­u­lar among all sec­tions of so­ci­ety and across party lines, a fact that was un­der­lined when Car­wyn Jones was asked to name the po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent he most re­spected in an in­ter­view around the time he left his post as First Min­is­ter. His an­swer: ‘St­ef­fan Lewis’.

“I am told that hun­dreds of peo­ple con­tacted St­ef­fan af­ter watch­ing, hear­ing or read­ing one of his in­ter­views in which he dis­cussed the men­tal and emo­tional chal­lenge of deal­ing with a se­ri­ous ill­ness.

“Even though it was ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for him to talk about his ill­ness while go­ing through im­mense per­sonal hard­ship, he was adamant that he had a duty to use his ex­pe­ri­ence for the ben­e­fit of oth­ers.

“He touched the lives of so many peo­ple in such a pos­i­tive and lifeaf­firm­ing way. That will guar­an­tee both his po­lit­i­cal and per­sonal legacy. They will en­dure in the mem­ory of the na­tion and be­yond for count­less years to come.”

First Min­is­ter Mark Drake­ford said: “I would like to ex­press my own deep and per­sonal sor­row at the loss of St­ef­fan Lewis AM, one of the most de­cent and able politi­cians of his gen­er­a­tion. My thoughts and sym­pa­thies are with his wife, Shona, and young son, Ce­lyn, at this in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult time.”

Pre­sid­ing Of­fi­cer Elin Jones said: “I am deeply sad­dened to hear of the death of my friend and col­league St­ef­fan Lewis. St­ef­fan showed great ded­i­ca­tion and courage in con­tin­u­ing to serve the peo­ple of South Wales East through­out his dif­fi­cult ill­ness. His de­ter­mi­na­tion to serve and work hard to im­prove the lives of the peo­ple of Wales earned him re­spect from across the po­lit­i­cal di­vide, within the Senedd and fur­ther afield. I can­not re­call an­other AM who was as proud as St­ef­fan to have been elected to his na­tional par­lia­ment. That his term of of­fice was cut so short is a tragic loss for us all. I shall miss his friend­ship and his pas­sion for Wales and his party. On be­half of all the Mem­bers and those who work at the Na­tional Assem­bly, I would like to ex­press my deep­est sym­pa­thy to his fam­ily, col­leagues and con­stituents.”

As a sign of re­spect, the flags at Na­tional Assem­bly build­ings have been low­ered. A book of con­do­lence will be made avail­able in the Senedd for col­leagues and mem­bers of the pub­lic wish­ing to pay tributes. It will re­main there un­til fur­ther no­tice.

PLAID AM St­ef­fan Lewis has died from bowel cancer aged 34. The dad of three-year-old Ce­lyn and hus­band to Shona died at Ys­byty Ystrad Fawr in Ystrad My­nach yes­ter­day, just over a year af­ter he was di­ag­nosed with the in­cur­able con­di­tion.

His un­timely pass­ing is a tragedy for his fam­ily, of course, but also for Wales.

St­ef­fan was not sim­ply a politi­cian with a very sharp mind who might eas­ily have be­come his party’s leader, but a man of un­fail­ing courtesy and good hu­mour who earned the re­spect of peo­ple in all par­ties.

Be­fore his all too short pe­riod as an elected politi­cian be­gan in 2016, he stood out among the re­searchers who worked for AMs as one who was ca­pa­ble of orig­i­nal thought, with an in­ci­sive un­der­stand­ing of the way the econ­omy worked.

As a pol­icy ad­viser to for­mer AM Jo­ce­lyn Davies and then to party leader Leanne Wood, he in­jected a pas­sion for Wales to be­come a pros­per­ous coun­try into ev­ery­thing he did.

When Jo­ce­lyn an­nounced her de­ci­sion to step down from the Na­tional Assem­bly in 2016, he was the ob­vi­ous can­di­date to suc­ceed her at the top of Plaid Cymru’s re­gional list in South Wales East.

He re­ally came into his own as Plaid’s Brexit spokesman, lead­ing the cam­paign against the “power grab” by West­min­ster of com­pe­ten­cies that were due to trans­fer from the EU to the Assem­bly.

He pushed the Welsh Gov­ern­ment to back the Con­ti­nu­ity Bill whose aim was to achieve that end, work­ing closely with Mark Drake­ford, the Labour min­is­ter whose re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in­cluded Brexit.

Even af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with ter­mi­nal cancer, he re­mained com­mit­ted to fight­ing for Wales.

He couldn’t at­tend the Senedd as reg­u­larly as he would have liked, but when he did so he com­manded the re­spect of ev­ery­one present with his quiet sense of moral au­thor­ity. His abil­ity to do that was awe-in­spir­ing.

From a per­sonal point of view, my ad­mi­ra­tion for St­ef­fan be­came in­cal­cu­la­ble when he spoke to me last Septem­ber with great clar­ity about his ill­ness.

I sat with him in his of­fice in Ty Hy­wel, as­ton­ished by his abil­ity to ex­plain what he hoped to achieve in the time that was left to him – and of the legacy that he wanted to leave for his young son.

He had wanted to live longer, of course.

But he was sadly re­al­is­tic about his prog­no­sis.

I felt gen­uinely hum­bled in his pres­ence as he told me: “Hav­ing an es­cape through work has been in­valu­able and be­ing well enough to par­tic­i­pate in these re­ally in­ter­est­ing – al­beit very com­pli­cated and frankly dan­ger­ous – times, has been a big wel­come.

“I would say that along with hav­ing my fam­ily and par­tic­u­larly my son – he brings such joy in re­ally dark times.

“Hav­ing work as well and be­ing in­tel­lec­tu­ally stim­u­lated has helped me greatly get through this or­deal.

“And even as I now live with the great uncer­tainty of the cancer – it can come and take me at any point, and that’s some­thing I’ve strug­gled to come to terms with, but I have to some de­gree come to terms with that.

“It can come at any time and take me.

“Back in Fe­bru­ary, when my liver was fail­ing and I was in Velin­dre Hos­pi­tal, I was told to write my let­ters – that my time was up.

“So I’ve got through that and ev­ery day af­ter that I see as a bonus.

“So when I can come into work to do my job, or take the boy to the park to play on his bike, I get such joy out of things peo­ple might say are or­di­nary or mun­dane oc­cur­rences.

“I’m very grate­ful that I’ve been able to con­tinue to con­trib­ute.”

Asked about the ad­vice he’d give to young peo­ple di­ag­nosed with cancer, he said: “To talk about it as much as pos­si­ble, par­tic­u­larly in the ini­tial pe­ri­ods.

“It’s very easy to in­ter­nalise this. “I’m very con­scious I’m the pro­tag­o­nist but my fam­ily, my friends – of course none of them want to lose me.

“They want me to over­come and suc­ceed and de­feat this. It has an ef­fect on them emo­tion­ally too. I would say ex­ter­nalise it.

“There’s an aw­ful lot of talk about stay­ing pos­i­tive.

“Do you know, some days you’re not go­ing to be pos­i­tive, and that’s fine.

“Be neg­a­tive, be an­gry – you’re en­ti­tled to if you want to. Be gut­ted, be low, ques­tion it.

“Ask your­self: ‘Why me?’ Al­low your­self to go through the emo­tions be­cause I think ul­ti­mately you end up in a place where it be­comes eas­ier to come to terms with it: You’ve put your­self through that emo­tional roller­coaster.”

St­ef­fan Lewis was an ex­cep­tion­ally ad­mirable man. Wales will be the poorer with­out him.

> St­ef­fan at Plaid Cymru’s 1997 con­fer­ence

> Plaid Cymru AM St­ef­fan Lewis

> St­ef­fan cam­paign­ing in Islwyn

Rob Browne

> Plaid Cymru AM St­ef­fan Lewis has died

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