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Robert Thomas was a Welsh sculptor, described by obituarist Meic Stephens as ‘staunchly humanist’ and ‘attracted as a sculptor to subjects whom he revered for their humanitarian ideals’. This statue commemorates one of Wales’ most famous humanists and beloved sons: NHS founder Aneurin ‘Nye’ Bevan. Born in Tredegar in 1897, Bevan left school at 13 and began working in the coal mines. Active in the mineworkers’ union, he was elected MP for Tredegar (later Ebbw Vale) in 1929. As Minister of Health following the ravages of the Second World War, he was a driving force in the creation of the National Health Service and the realisation of the welfare state. Jennie Lee, politician, humanist, and Bevan’s wife, wrote of Nye:

He was not a cold-blooded rationalist. He was no calculating machine. He was a great humanist whose religion lay in loving his fellow-men and trying to serve them. He could kneel reverently in chapel, synagogue, Eastern mosque, Catholic cathedral on occasions when friends called him there for marriage or dedication or burial services. He knelt reverently in respect to a friend and a friend’s faith, but he never pretended to be other than he was, a great humanist.

Jennie Lee, My Life with Nye (1980)

A formidable orator, and fierce defender of his principles – fervent in his conviction that healthcare should be free and available to all – Thomas’ statue represents Bevan with an arm outstretched, as if in the midst of making his point.

As well as this statue, Thomas created a bust of Bevan in 1996, which was unveiled by humanist and First Minister of Wales Rhodri Morgan at the University of Glamorgan’s Faculty of Health, Sport and Science, ‘to inspire Wales’ nurses and health care workers of the future’. Speaking at its unveiling, GP and socialist Julian Tudor-Hart called on those present to:

…watch this bust carefully, and respect its still explosive power. Nye’s ghost is alive and well, even if he now operates silently, with that shrewd Welsh subtlety that can slip us through bad times. He still has a mighty place not just in history, but in the world of social justice yet to come…

This is a very humanist notion of an afterlife. Though death is the end, the contributions we make, and our impact on others, can long outlast us.

These depictions of Bevan form part of Thomas’ collection of much loved commemorations of Welsh people, both famous and not. They offer a vision of human achievement, fortitude, and empathy for others, realised with creativity and compassion: all hallmarks of the humanist approach.

Read more

Obituary: Robert Thomas | The Independent

Robert Thomas | ArtUK

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