Hedley Gibbard Memorial Lecture

The Hedley Gibbard Memorial Lecture is Cymdeithas Cyfieithwyr Cymru's annual lecture.

The Hedley Gibbard Annual Memorial Lecture was established in 2002 in appreciation of Hedley Gibbard's pioneering work and enormous contribution to the field of translation and interpretation in Wales. The lecture is held during the National Eisteddfod week.

Hedley Gibbard was born on a farm, Waun Fawr, Llangyndeyrn in 1936, before the family later moved to a house in Bancffosfelen. He was brought up in a happy, lively home of eleven children. Naturally gifted and clever, it's no wonder that he excelled at Mathematics and that his Latin teacher was quoted as saying he had been his brightest pupil. These were the exact qualities which made him such an excellent interpreter.

Whilst studying for the ministry at Bala-Bangor Congregational College he met Mair whom he later married. She was the daughter of Gwilym Bowyer, Principal of Bala-Bangor at that time. He began his ministry on Anglesey in 1965 when he was soon called upon to interpret at court cases. It was mostly ministers of religion who translated in courts at that time and it was consecutive translation and not simultaneous interpreting. In 1973 it was decided to introduce simultaneous interpreting equipment in some courts with Hedley one of the first to try out this system. He enjoyed recalling one instance after interpreting at a meeting to present this new system to Anglesey councillors. To his great surprise he was congratulated by one of the most anti-Welsh councillors but who was quick to add spitefully “but it'll never catch on, old friend".

Little did that councillor know! With local government reorganization in 1974 Gwynedd County Council introduced simultaneous translation and Hedley was called upon to interpret in Gwynedd. . He had already been interpreting for the former Caernarvonshire Council. When calling at the translation unit on his way with Mair Hunt to various council meetings, he would stand there in his Harold Wilson coat making quips about various celebrities and politicians.

Gradually, other members of the translation unit ventured into this field of translation as the demand increased with more and more Welsh speaking councillors beginning to contribute in their mother tongue. In a matter of a few years Welsh had become the main language spoken at meeting which meant a huge increase in the interpreting services required.

In time, Hedley himself became Head of Gwynedd Council's Translation Unit. He worked tirelessly, extending the service beyond the Council's central meetings and also beyond normal office hours. He considered any request for interpreting as an opportunity to promote the Welsh language. As Gwynedd's language policy extended requests for interpreting came from all over North Wales. Hedley divided out the workload fairly between members of the team undertaking his share of the work on top of his own work as head of the unit, not to mention his work as a chapel minister. He often visited a patient at Ysbyty Gwynedd before starting a day's work or visited during his lunch break.

Vice-chairman of Cymdeithas Cyfieithwyr Cymru

He was Vice-Chairman of Cymdeithas Cyfieithwyr Cymru alongside Steve Eaves, as it gradually grew from being a voluntary society of around 70 members in the nineties to an association employing two full-time members of staff in 2001. He was a member of the Welsh Language Board's Translation Panel and pointed out to the Board's officers the important role of translation in enhancing the status of the Welsh language. He was eventually seconded by Gwynedd Council to develop and set up the Welsh Assembly's translation service. This is how Baron Wigley summed up his contribution: “It is Hedley who is responsible for the fact that we have a much better interpreting system in the Welsh Assembly than in the European Parliament.“

Sharing his time between running Gwynedd's Translation Unit as well as establishing and training Assembly interpreters took its toll on Hedley. He worked tirelessly and his enthusiasm was infectious. It was during Cymdeithas Cyfieithwyr Cymru's twenty-fifth anniversary dinner that we last had the pleasure of his company; just under a month before his death. Even though he was gravely ill at the time he kept up an endless flow of anecdotes about various interpreting mishaps.

It was Frances Lynch, the archaeologist, who depended on his interpreting service at Snowdonia National Park meeting who described him as "a Rolls Royce of a translator". Even though Hedley would never have yearned for a Rolls Royce, he would certainly be very proud of the fact that through his tireless work interpreting and promoting translation services he had greatly enhanced the status of Welsh throughout Wales.

A list of these memorial lectures are available on the Welsh site.

We are grateful to Megan Hughes Tomos, first Chief Executive of Cymdeithas Cyfieithwyr Cymru, for this biography of Hedley Gibbard.

Cymdeithas Cyfieithwyr Cymru is part funded by the Welsh Government.