In rememberance of Dr Eilir Hedd Morgan, School of Ocean Sciences
This tribute to Eilir was paid by Dr Prysor Williams from the School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography during the annual meeting of the Bangor Branch of the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol on Monday 13 May.
I first got to know Eilir nearly eleven years ago when he came to live in Neuadd John Morris Jones here at Bangor University. Eilir was exactly the kind of person any hall of residence would wish to have - supportive of everything, got along with everyone, and a bundle of energy and fun. Believe me, I could keep you here for hours telling you about some of the things we got up to in Neuadd JMJ, but I had better not! I could also tell you endless stories about the times singing together in concerts, eisteddfodau and festivals with Hogia’r Berfeddwlad. But having got to know Eilir so well socially and as a close friend over the years, today I want to focus on the other side of Eilir that I was also fortunate enough to get to know - his brief, but brilliant, academic career.
Eilir followed a path that some would consider unconventional for a lad from the hills and mountains of Meirionnydd: marine biology. He completed his degree in marine biology at university, and then after a period in industry, he came back to study for a Masters in Ocean Sciences, and then in 2008 he was awarded a research scholarship in marine biology and ecology at Bangor University. This was one of the wisest appointments that the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol ever made. Eilir was a natural researcher - curious, had wide interests and a sharp mind, and always ready to ask incisive questions. Eilir worked extremely hard during his doctorate, getting up in the middle of the night (or knowing Eilir, not going to bed at all) to go sampling with the tide to collect data on the subject of his research: the proliferation of two non-native oyster species in the Menai Straits, with a specific focus on population distribution and structure, and the effects of their presence on the local biodiversity. Eilir had already published papers based on his doctorate, and several others were about to be submitted. He had also presented his findings at local, national and international conferences. Detailed articles about his work even appeared in some of the major newspapers of New Zealand. However, in a world where many are more than ready to show their ego and authority in their area of research, Eilir's modest and unassuming nature was a breath of fresh air.
It was a real pleasure to see him finishing his doctorate after all his hard work and, the icing on the cake, being appointed to a Welsh medium lectureship at the School of Ocean Sciences in January of this year. I now had the opportunity to work with Eilir. We taught a Welsh medium module on research skills together to first year students. I was always worried when the lecture was about to start and there was no sign of Eilir, but he’d always come rushing in, seconds before the lecture was due to start, breathless and wearing a broad smile! It's not the easiest task to convince 18 year old students of the importance of correct referencing, how to use the library and statistics, but Eilir had such a big personality that the students focused completely on his every word. For me, teaching this module next September will be a much poorer and emptier experience. His teaching style was energetic, lively, enthusiastic, and vibrant. Above all, he had the ability to identify with the students and gain both their respect and their interest. Last year, he was one of the leaders on a trip to Virginia in the United States with second year students. At the end of the week, when they had just arrived back at the airport, the students presented Eilir with a book in which each one of them had written a few words expressing their gratitude to him for his contribution to the trip. Eilir didn't show the book to anybody - that was part of his unassuming nature - but I was fortunate enough to see it recently. The students' words reflected Eilir's ability to totally captivate students. He was also more than willing to organize activities for non-scientists and children at the National Eisteddfod and the Urdd Eisteddfod. I recently called at Eilir's home and his parents showed me a letter of condolence that they had received from a teacher at the secondary school in Botwnnog. The teacher had recently taken a group of children to a marine biology session given by Eilir. They had all thoroughly enjoyed the session and Eilir's enthusiasm and zest had sparked an interest in them all. Eilir was a natural communicator and had the ability to transform the dull into something interesting, something difficult into something easy - whatever the age or background of his audience.
Eilir was a proud Welshman - based on his upbringing in which the best of Welsh culture and the arts flowed through the house and through his veins. He was passionate about the Welsh language, and, of course, about Welsh medium higher education - he believed, as we all do, that it is a fundamental right that should be available to all Welsh students. But Eilir also had his feet on the ground - he realised that things would not change overnight, and that working with people, rather than against them, was what was required. He also knew the importance of encouraging those who are less confident in their language skills. Having only been in his Welsh medium lectureship for three months, it is a terrible shame that this promising seed will not be allowed to fully flower and bear fruit. It is beyond question that Eilir would have had a successful academic career and there is no doubt that he was one of the brightest young stars of the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol and Bangor University.
Outside his academic career, Eilir had very broad interests and this was apparent in his ability to talk to anybody, about anything. Sports, nature, singing and music, poetry and the arts in general were very close to his heart. I have never met anybody with such eclectic musical tastes - his CD collection ranged from Jimmy Hendrix to Bob Tai’r Felin!
I'm sure that I speak on behalf of everyone who knew him when I say that I will only have fond memories of him - I will remember a sincere, bright, talented, mischievous, fun, unassuming, and amiable lad - the complete package. It was a privilege to have known him. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family and his partner, Miranda, in their terrible loss. In addition to his family and to Miranda, his death is a great loss to the world of science, Bangor University and the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol. May he rest in peace.