BLAENAU Gwent’s Mayor Mostyn Lewis will hand over his chains to a new mayor next month, ending one of the busiest and most rewarding years of his life. He talks to KEILIGH BAKER about how he went from leaving school at 15 to representing his borough.
“I was born on November 23, 1942, in New Church Road, Ebbw Vale. I was an only child and as a result I was very spoilt.
My father was from North Pembrokeshire. All his family were farmers, but he was more interested in engineering and fitting hydraulics. He came to Ebbw Vale in the early 1930s to work for a company called Lightfoots, and worked on the rebuild of the Ebbw Vale Steelworks.
My mother, Marian, was a housewife.
I went to Glyncoed Secondary Modern School but left school at 15, although I did go to college later on.
When I left school I went to work for a company called Powell Duffryn, a wagon repair company. They had their headquarters in Cardiff, but also had premises in Waunlwyd, which is where I was based.
They were contracted to Richard Thomas and Baldwins, before it was absorbed into British Steel, for wagon repairs and rolling stock and we worked with wood. And so I started with them, on what was basically a small apprenticeship.
I was taught by some very, very good craftsmen and it soon got the point where I was using saws and mechanical saws and suchlike without supervision. Then, one day the foreman came up to me and said ‘Mostyn we would like you to take a course on welding’, because the company had decided to introduce steel rolling stock instead of wood.
So I enrolled at Ebbw Vale Institute with the welding instructor who was from the Ebbw Vale steelworks and we were taught the basics of MMA stick welding.
I went there once a week and after a few months I passed as proficient to weld steel rolling stock.
I always strived to better myself, so to increase my knowledge I then enrolled at Ebbw Vale College and gained the Level One welding certificate and ended up passing my intermediate certificate with a distinction.
A year later I passed my full City and Guilds in all processes, theory and practical with distinction. That enabled me then to carry on working for Powell Duffryn to work on steel rolling stock until 1964.
I left as I was given the opportunity to go into the Richard Thomas Baldwin Steelworks as a welder. I started there and at the time my wife, who I was then courting, was one of the nurses in the nursing section of the steelworks.
I met my wife Ann on St Patrick’s Day in the Ebbw Vale ex-servicemen’s club in 1963. So I met her and the rest is history. We’ve known each other 50 years now. She was the youngest of a family of nine, she had six sisters and two brothers.
We married on October 30, 1965. And I wouldn’t change her for the world. I don’t know where I’d be had it not been for her. She’s been my backbone through everything I’ve done. We’ve had our arguments, mind, but you wouldn’t be human without that would you?
Our eldest, Beverley, was born in 1971, and Rhian followed shortly after. We have four beautiful grandchildren, Lowri, Osian, Ffion and Megan. They live within 10 minutes of where we live, which is good.
In my welding days in Ebbw Vale one of the big suppliers was BOC – the British Oxygen Company. They were the big boys. They held the Great British Welder challenge.
When I did my work, I don’t mean to sound proud, but when it came to my welding, people knew what was mine. I was meticulous, a perfectionist. I couldn’t help it, that was just my way.
So I entered and low and behold, I won the local region and attended the final in Port Talbot in 1975 and I won second place. There were 10 young welders there from all over the country, but I was the second best welder in Great Britain.
During my time at the steelworks I was seconded down to Spencer Steelworks. I wanted to better myself, but it didn’t work. The place was so cosmopolitan, they were on strike every five minutes. I couldn’t blend into that. So I transferred back to Ebbw Vale.
Anyway, when I was still in the steelworks I got talking to sales reps who came selling their wares, and I thought to myself, I wouldn’t mind a job like that. I said to Ann, if an opportunity comes up I’m going to apply to be a sales rep.
Then one day I was on the early shift and a colleague saw an advert in the paper and it said Oerlikon Welding Ltd are seeking a sales rep to cover Wales and the south west.
To cut a long story short, I had four interviews and they finally offered the position. I started a few weeks later on April 1, 1978. I was with them 28 years as a sales rep before I retired in 2005.
I started off as a technical rep and my area when I started was all Wales as far as Powys and Pembrokeshire, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, Bristol, Somerset Devon and Cornwall.
I had to build up a patch and in 1982 I was promoted to regional sales manager and was responsible for four representatives covering everything south of Watford Gap.
Because of my welding background I was asked to put a training programme together, which I did. I trained all the reps not to show them how to sell but showing them what products we made and where they could be sold.
I travelled all over Europe and had several visits to the US, taking the training programme with me.
I retired because in 2004 I was elected as county councillor for Ebbw Vale South. I’ve been a Labour man all my life and regularly went to ward meetings and people kept suggesting I run for North ward. Long story short, I ran, lost gracefully and my wife Ann has represented the ward since 2013.
A few days after my loss I had a call to say there was vacancy in the south central ward, and I was the man for the role.
My name was put forward, and I stood for election and was duly elected along with Cllr Brian Clements and am privileged to say I have been their councillor to this day.
Since I became a councillor I’ve given my all – I couldn’t give any more. I’ve worked hard and played hard and I love what I’m doing. I love giving something back to the community which has given myself and my family such an excellent life.
I never even considered being mayor, but I was nominated and voted in as mayor. I got the text from Cllr Haydn Trollope while I was on a cruise with Ann. I was gobsmacked. On May 8 I was inaugurated as the county borough mayor.
I’ve always been a believer if you’re going to do a job you’ve got to give your all. I’m very proud of being given the position – privileged and humbled.
It’s a hard job – the public don’t realise it. A lot of the time it’s seven days a week, three engagements per day, including weekends.
My main leisure interest outside work is flat green bowls. My indoor club is Blaenau Gwen Indoor bowls and my outdoor is RTB. For more than 20 years I have coached and I’m one of the eight international squad coaches for the Welsh Bowls Coaching Association, teaching 18 to 25 year olds.
From 1964 to 1997 I was proud to be a member of the Beaufort Male Voice Choir. I was chorister and was chairman in 1979 and an officer on the committee for a number of years.
I’ve had a varied life. I’ve made a lot of friends through my job and coaching. A lot of that really prepared me for the role of mayor. When I became a councillor I adopted many things I did when I was selling.
If you don’t look after your constituents they will vote for the opposition. And in selling, if you don’t look after your customers, they will buy off the competition. So it’s hand in glove really. A lot of my working career has helped in my role as a councillor and mayor.
It’s been a fabulous journey.”