In the summer of 1957, a hugely energetic rugby enthusiast from Welshpool named Ithel Gilbert-Davies went on holiday with friends to France. While he was there he took a drink of water from a local stream. Its thought that this was how he contracted poliomyelitis, an infectious disease that attacks the nervous system. Ithel was just 23 years old, and this terrible disease changed his life beyond recognition. He died last week, aged 75 years. Yesterday many of us who knew Ithel, shared his love for rugby and have an association with Welshpool RUFC sat together at a Service of Celebration and Thanksgiving for his life. And what a life it was. He was a leading personality of the Mid Wales rugby world, of the Welshpool Rotary Club and of so much else as well. Bearing in mind what happened to him in the summer of 1957, when his life expectancy would have been quite short, he lived a long and truly remarkable life.
I knew Ithel first as my solicitor. Got to know him well when I tired of travelling all over England to play my rugby and moved to my home club, Welshpool, which had not been in existence when I switched from football. (Well actually its more accurate to say 'banished from football by one-eyed referees' - a move that Ithel also made, and for the same sort of reason, according to leading FAW member, Tegwyn Evans who knew him as a teenager). At yesterday's service, Bill Roberts described the way Ithel coped with his disability (which he sought to ignore) and how we all behaved towards him. Bill spoke with much warmth and amusement. How Ithel used to joke that he was the only one who had to be carried into parties. We just carried him in, propped him up in his usual place, and in due course carried him out again. Bill told us about the time we carried him to the toilet, and forgot about him until it was his round. He told us about taking him home, propping him up against the wall, pressing the doorbell, and running for it as soon as we heard Lillian's footsteps in the hall. (She was a strong woman, who could put an entire front row to flight with a single look).
I never cease to be amazed by the resilience of some people - the way they cope with the seriously duff hand that is dealt them. I really do not believe that many of us could have faced the enormity of what befell Ithel Gilbert-Davies. That's why so many of us were there yesterday, and why it was a genuine celebration of a life. And it was a wonderful sing-song, ending up a rendition of 'Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau' which rocked the foundations of St Mary's Church.