"I had known Bill Cooper for nearly forty years, and I have never met a nicer man in politics. He was a 'gentleman' in every sense of the word, and in all these years, I have never come across anyone who had a bad word to say about him. That is almost enough for an epitaph for most people - but there was much more to Bill.
Bill was born in the Forest of Dean in 1910. He was the son of a miner and was one of twelve children. He worked underground in what many people today forget was an important coalfield in its own right. He moved to Cheltenham and then to Cwmbran in 1948, where he worked first in Girlings and then in Saunders Valves. He never lost his Forest 'burr' when he talked in that very gentle voice of his.
He married Vell in 1942, and they eventually had a daughter, Elizabeth, who married Alan, and a son, Gareth, who married Susan. He had four grandchildren - David, Anna, Robert and Richard, and two great-grandchildren, Rachel and Ffion. He was very proud of all of them.
"I was born in Llangynidr on March the 12th 1912. I was still quite young when we moved to Tredegar and I went to school there.
My Mother used to compete in Eisteddfods : she was a very good singer and she also recited. When I was four she took me along to hear her sing - she found that the bigger the crowd, the better she sang. When we went to the next Eisteddfod she had coached me in singing - so we both entered; children sang in the afternoon, adults in the evening. I stood on stage and sang 'Jesus put a shine on me'. Mam was so pleased with how I sang and gave me a big hug as we waited for the judges to make their decision; it seemed like a lifetime, but I came third. My Mother and Father were delighted so it was decided that I would also enter the recital, so I quickly learned a recitation off by heart. It was soon my turn to go on stage : I stood there looking at all the people, and stood there.....but nothing came out and eventually my Mother called me off stage. That was the end of my career in Eisteddfods, but I do remember the recitation:
Look at the moon
It’s shining up there
Oh Mother it looks like a lamp up there.
Last night it was smaller and shaped like a bow
But now it’s grown bigger and round like an O.
(Gareth : Well Mam, you are shining up there too.)
After leaving school I went to work as a nursemaid to a little girl who was born on the same day as The Queen. I then became a psychiatric nurse for 6½ years in Abergavenny.
I met Bill at a cousin's wedding. He was the best man, and we became married in 1942. Bill had been a miner in the Forest of Dean where he grew up, but was by then working in Cheltenham. In 1945 we had Elizabeth, and Gareth came along in 1948. I wasn't very happy in Cheltenham and always wanted to return to Wales.
We bought a house, complete with shop, in Cwmbran, from my father's cousin. Mam and Dad also lived with us and we sold produce from the large garden that my father tended to. When it became too difficult for Dad to look after the garden, we moved to Oakfield Road. Dad died shortly after and my mother continued to live with us until she passed away aged 90, in 1980".
"I know Mam loved her sport and I recall her standing on the terrace at Rodney Parade watching Newport play rugby; and also running across a muddy pitch with me when I was small, to ensure that I got a favourite rugby player's autograph after the whistle had blown.
Mam played bowls for many, many years and became captain and then president of Cwmbran Ladies' Bowls Club. I think that she must have been about 90 when she last sent a wood down the green as a ceremonial opening to the season. Mam and Dad enjoyed many holidays to various parts of the country on bowls tours.
She was a great support to Dad in his work with the trade union, the Labour Party and in his long service to the community in Cwmbran. She was very proud to be at his side when he became Chairman of the Community Council. The icing on the cake for them was being invited and going to a garden party at Buckingham Palace.
When Dad passed away in 2007 Mam decided that it was now her turn to be looked after, ("and why not?"), and so became a resident at Morrel Court in Penarth where Elizabeth lives. I cannot praise too highly the care that she has received there over the past 8 years. They say children are getting even younger in having mobile phones : well folk are getting older too. As I live away, it was the way that I was able to talk to her regularly. She was always interested to hear from me and Elizabeth as to what the grandchildren, David, Anna, Robert and Richard, and great-grandchildren Rachael, Ffion, Eva and Alice were up to; she loved them all dearly.
Elizabeth and I, and others who were there, have an abiding memory of Mam's love and care. In her last hours and whilst one of the residential home managers was knelt at her bedside, holding her hand, she opened her eyes, gave her a beaming smile and told her how beautiful she was.
Mam was a lovely lady, a wonderful gentle caring mother, loved by us all - we shall miss her terribly".
The following eulogy was read to the congregation on the occasion of his funeral, and as a tribute to my Uncle Bill, my Mum's eldest Brother, by the Rt Hon Paul Murphy MP. The thanks of all the family go out to Mr Murphy.
Vel's son, Gareth, gave the eulogy below at the funeral of his 'Mam':
"During the last few years, Mam has been living at Morrel Court Residential Home. Residents there are encouraged to recollect things from their lives and to write them down. These are some of the things that she recorded."
Bill was a trade unionist and socialist from the start. Appalled by terrible living and working conditions in those early days, he hated injustice and exploitation. Bill was drawn to the trade union movement and became a lifelong member of the AEU. Vell would say that his life centred around branch meetings, and can recall Bill arranging holidays to avoid missing them.
He was not, however, content to confine his activities to the shop floor. Bill could see that, in order to improve the lot of his fellow working men and women, that he would have to enter the political arena, and he duly joined the Labour Party nearly half a century ago. He was treasurer of Llantarnam Labour Party branch for many years, a delegate to the constituency party and rightly received in 1984, a certificate of merit for his outstanding service to the party.
Bill also represented Llantarnam as a Community Councillor, becoming its Chairman in 1986. I will always remember how he and Vell carried out their civic duties with great dignity. He took a particular interest in the Cwmbran Centre for Young People. The Mayor of Torfaen presented Bill with a civic testimonial in acknowledgement of his service to the community in 1989.
I paint a picture of a highly dedicated, committed and active trade unioinst and councillor, devoted to his family and friends.
I shall miss his loyalty, his wisdom, his common sense, his humility and his devotion to principle. He lived to a great age, and he left our community a better place because of his service to the people. Our lives have been enriched by knowing him.
Bill was a committed Christian who put his religion into practice. I know of no greater candidate for Heaven, and I think Cardinal Newman's prayer is very relevant today:-
May He support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed and the fever of life is over and our work is done. Then, in His mercy, may He give us safe lodging and a holy rest and peace at last.
May the Good Lord have mercy upon him, and may he rest in peace.'
26th February 2007
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