‘STEFF INSPIRED US EVERY DAY’
Moving tributes paid to Plaid AM
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
> Plaid Cymru AM Steffan Lewis has died