Tribute to Aneurin (Nye) Hughes

by Hywel Ceri Jones
Former Director General in the European Commission; Founder of the Erasmus programme and former Chair of the European Policy Centre and the European Network of Foundations.

4th April 2020

As for many others, this devastating global pandemic has cruelly prevented my wife Morwenna and myself from being present in Oslo to pay our personal tributes to Nye at his funeral.

The deep friendship I have enjoyed with Nye, now spanning six decades, has been a central and constant part of my life, like brothers.   Nye had many qualities and always contributed so much with his generosity of spirit and positive thinking.  It is difficult to find the words I need to express my love, friendship and deep admiration for him.  It is very hard to think that he will not soon be on the phone enquiring of mutual friends and the latest news from Wales.

Nye was born in Swansea and educated at Swansea Grammar school.   He drew his core values and moral perspectives from his upbringing, together with his sister Delyth, from their loving parents in their home in Plasmarl. He was inspired in his ‘joie de vivre’ and in his love of music , especially classical music, songs and Welsh hymn tunes, by his mother, whilst his father ‘s influence, coupled with his active involvement in Dinas Noddfa, the local Baptist chapel, (three times every Sunday throughout his youth) firmly anchored him with his Christian convictions and a life-long determination to demand social justice for all.

 Nye became passionately engaged in Plaid Cymru, the National Party of Wales, and remained in it till the end of his life, strongly committed to secure equality of esteem between the nations of the now increasingly  ‘Disunited Kingdom’as he saw it .  His world was Wales but his Wales  worldwide.

The period spent he spent as a student at the University College of Wales at Aberystwyth gave Nye every opportunity to develop his many talents.   He was a natural and gifted all-rounder, enjoying several sports as well as his academic studies.   He graduated with a double Honours degree in Welsh and Philosophy, and did a year of teacher training.

Already prominent in the debating and theatrical societies, he was elected and served as President of the Aber Students Union.  Aber always remained a passion for him and he loved his continuing connections with his university and former students.   It would be hard to find a more eloquent advocate than Nye of the attractions of Aber as a great place to study.

Whilst Student President at Aber, he became involved in the politics of the National Union of Students when our other lifelong friend, Gwyn Morgan, another former Aber Union President, was serving as NUS President.   Nye was encouraged by him to stand as successor and swept comfortably to victory in the election.

Nye’s experience at the NUS launched him on his subsequent career.  By then an ardent internationalist, he joined the British Foreign Service and held the post of First Secretary with distinction in Singapore and Rome.

Nye and I both joined the European Commission in Brussels on the same day – May 6 1973 – happy to be together with our other ex Aber friend, Gwyn Morgan, in the first wave of senior appointments made from the U.K. to the then EEC. Nye was a passionate believer in the developing process of European integration as a force for peace and reconciliation across the continent, and as a framework for European collaboration in which Wales and the U.K. should be active participants.

Nye and Jill, his first wife and their 2 sons Elis and Sion, were our closest family friends spending many happy times together in Brussels ,with the 4 children, all the same ages, learning Welsh alongside their school studies.

Nye’s distinguished career in the Commission started as a department head in the office of the Secretary General of the Commission.  He later was appointed to serve as Head of Cabinet to Commissioner (Lord) Ivor Richard (another Welshman), with his portfolio responsibility for employment, training and social policies .

As many present know, Nye moved to Oslo to head the European Commission’s delegation to Norway and to lead the campaign in the EU referendum in Norway. He became well known for his articulate and well-informed advocacy of the case in favour of membership, and despite the result, made numerous lasting friends in Norway.

His move to the post of EU Ambassador to Australia and New Zealand gave Nye the opportunity to further expand his contributions to promoting the collaborative role of the EU in the wider world.  His speeches, delivered across the continent, earned him many admirers who enjoyed his oratory and humorous illustrations of the values of the EU relationship. The group of his good friends in Canberra became a rich and significant addition to the many he has in Wales, Norway and across Europe. 

Settling in Oslo on his retirement, Nye enjoyed his retirement with Lisbet to the full, playing golf and travelling, whilst finding time to write his biography of Billy Hughes, a former Welsh Australian PM .He  loved his chapel in Canberra and was deeply involved with it on his annual stays there .

Diagnosed some 15 months ago with pancreatic cancer whilst in Canberra, he bore his affliction with dignity and fortitude, confident in his deep lifelong Christian convictions, and concerned about the health and welfare of other friends until the end. Since their marriage now 19 years ago, the love of Lisbeth gave him great joy and her tender and loving care gave him huge comfort throughout his illness.   The visits from his two sons Elis and Sion during his illness also gave him much joy and he would invariably say farewell to them, and to other visiting friends, with his positive ‘thumbs up’.

Each and every one of us will have his or her own special memories of Nye.   In this important sense Nye will live on.   Nye has added an immeasurably rich dimension to my life. As a close lifelong friend, I feel that without Nye I have lost a limb.   I shall treasure my many memories of Nye as a positive force within me for the rest of my life.

I know I speak on behalf of Nye’s wide circle of friends across the globe, many of whom have been in touch with me and the family, and who cannot be here today, to express our love and deepest sympathy to Lisbeth and her family, to Elis and Sion, to their wives and to Nye’s grandchildren, and to his sister Delyth and her family.