Telsa Gwynne, 1969-2015

At their request, I’ve written something for the Hacio’r Iaith blog about Telsa, a dear friend, who died recently. It’ll be published there later today, I expect, but I thought it reasonable to put a (fairly rough) English version here too. As a note, many translator’s liberties have been taken, so this is more a gist translation than a clause-by-clause rendition. I believe you can mouse-over the text to get some of the original Welsh.

About two weeks ago, we heard the very sad news of the death of Telsa Gwynne, after a long illness. She was well known to many of us within Hacio’r Iaith, as a friend and fellow traveller.

It’s extremely difficult to do justice to the various activities with which Telsa has been involved. Suffice it to say that she bridged the technological, linguistic and literary spheres in an entirely natural manner, without the merest awareness that they might have been separate worlds in the first place. She learned Welsh as an adult, starting in 2002, but it’d be a mistake to think of her as a ‘Welsh learner’ of any kind. A mere nine years after starting her Mynediad course for absolute beginners, she graduated from Swansea University with a first-class honours degree in Welsh, after performing exceptionally well in her studies. Immediately after graduating, she embarked on doctoral research. Her PhD would have been innovative and greatly influential – examining, as it did, linguistic aspects of the Welsh language as presented on digital and social media. It built on a brilliant undergraduate dissertation. 

In Hacio’r Iaith’s latest podcast, Telsa is described as a ‘pioneer’: a perfect description of her in so many areas. Sioned Mills spoke about Telsa’s contribution towards the Hacio’r Iaith gatherings, and her ability to put people from diverse backgrounds at total ease within quite a ‘techie’ environment.  That, in itself, is a talent and a half, but it also reflects Telsa’s nature: magnanimous, amenable, and someone who delighted in those who contributed towards technology and the Welsh language.

She was one of those contributors too, of course. She was an integral part of the efforts to translate the free desktop, GNOME, to the Welsh language, and re-reading her excited emails during that period, reporting on the project’s progress, is a bitter-sweet experience now. Self-effacement prevented her from calling herself a ‘translator’, but that’s what she was, and her attention to detail served to refine and polish the end result. She was also a key contributor to the Welsh Wikipedia for several years, and was very active with the Association of Welsh Language Software.

That wasn’t the end of her involvement with computing, by a long way. Telsa kept an online diary (no, not a blog – she was adamant that her diary wasn’t that, and the term didn’t exist anyway in 1998, when she started using the web to record bits her life), she documented many free software projects, and she was passionate about bug-reporting in free software, also wonderfully explaining to others how they could do the same.

She loved the Welsh language too. One of her favourite poets was Waldo Williams, someone who, according to Telsa, shared much of her outlook on life. And while I’m no sentimentalist, Waldo’s famous line about the nature of existence, translatable, roughly, as ‘a great hall between narrow walls’, encapsulates Telsa’s life for me. The hall she created teemed with rich activity of many kinds, and the walls, to her, were as nothing.

Goodbye, Telsa. We’ll miss you greatly.

Rhys Jones

With profound condolences to Alan, Terry, Deborah, and the rest of the family. Donations in Telsa’s memory can be given to Marie Curie Cancer Care.

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