The founder and patron of the Nos Galan Road Races, Bernard Baldwin MBE, passed away peacefully on Tuesday, January 3rd at Cynon Valley Hospital, aged 91.
Having been granted the Freedom of the County Borough by Rhondda Cynon Taf Council in 2014, he also attended the unveiling of a Blue Plaque at St Gwynno’s Church, Llanwonno, the same year, in memory of legendary Welsh runner Guto Nythbran.
The Freedom of the County Borough was bestowed upon Mr Baldwin in recognition of his major contribution to the world of athletics and for his amazing foresight in 1958 to give us the lasting legacy of the world-famous and award-winning Nos Galan Road Races.
Only a few days ago, the 2016 Nos Galan Road Races were an enormous success, with 1,600 runners of all ages and abilities registering to take part in the Childrens’ Races, Elite Race and 5k Adult Fun Run. The 2016 Nos Galan Mystery Runner was Wales’ football manager Chris Coleman OBE.
Cllr Ann Crimmings, Chair of the Nos Galan Committee and Council Cabinet Member for Environment, Leisure and Culture, said:
“Our thoughts at this very sad time are with Bernard’s wife Pat, daughter Alison, and all the family.
“Whilst we all mourn the passing of Bernard, we can take great comfort in the fact that he has left us all a lasting legacy in the shape and form of the world-famous Nos Galan Road Races.
“Just days ago, thousands of people came along to Mountain Ash and Llanwonno to support and take part in the 2016 Nos Galan Road Races – a great testament to Bernard Baldwin MBE.
“He lived such a full and active life and we all remember him with great fondness. He loved his family dearly and was always passionate about his home town of Mountain Ash and the Nos Galan Road Races, which were all down to him.”
Cllr Andrew Morgan, Leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf Council, said:
“Having grown up in the town of Mountain Ash, I grew up surrounded by the legend of Guto Nythbran and the wonderful spectacle that is the Nos Galan Road Races.
“I am so proud to also be a member of the Nos Galan Committee and we are all so very sad to hear of the death of our Honorary Patron Bernard Baldwin MBE.
“His name will forever be synonymous with the Nos Galan Road Races and my thoughts are with his family at this very difficult time.”
Bernard William Leighton-Baldwin was born, one of seven children, in Barry, South Wales in September 1925. He later married Pat Richards, of Mountain Ash, and they have one daughter Alison.
Bernard served in the Fleet Air Arm as a trainee air gunner during the Second World War and pursued a career in education after the War, studying at Caerleon Training College. He also became an accomplished cross country champion.
His teaching duties took him to Tintern Village School in the Wye Valley, later moving to Mill Street Secondary Modern School in Pontypridd, followed by a stint at Treforest Lower Comprehensive School.
It was while working as PE, Games and Music Master at Mill Street Secondary Modern School that he first came across the Welsh legend of Guto Nyth Bran – appropriately it was on St David’s Day, March 1, 1950.
Headteacher Dr Leonard Baden Collier had introduced the ‘new teacher’ to the school as an accomplished athlete, and at break-time one of the pupils told him about the famous runner being buried at St Gwynno’s Church, Llanwonno.
The seed had been firmly planted and the Nos Galan Road Races started in Mountain Ash on Wednesday, December 31, 1958, with Tom Richards as the first-ever Nos Galan Mystery Runner – the person who would represent the spirit of Guto Nyth Bran.
The first-ever Nos Galan Midnight Race consisted of 101 runners and got underway at exactly 11.46pm, with the competitors literally running into the New Year – a tradition that continued for many years.
It was the same year that the Empire Games were held in Cardiff, with Bernard Baldwin appointed as Press Officer for those Games.
A year later, Bernard also founded the Taff Street Dash in Pontypridd. The 100-yard sprint through the town centre lasted for 17 years and was revived for one more year in 1991.
Bernard Baldwin, of Campbell Terrace, Caegarw, Mountain Ash, was presented with the MBE by The Queen at Buckingham Palace in 1971 for his services to British athletics.
The Nos Galan Road Races continued until 1973, coming to an end due to health and safety reasons. But it returned in a blaze of glory in 1984. Called ‘Nos Galan Reborn’, the event had three Mystery Runners – David Bedford, Steve Jones and Lisa Hopkins, representing the Past, Present and Future.
Other famous celebrities to carry the torch as Nos Galan Mystery Runner over the years have included, Colin Jackson, Adam Jones, Dai Greene, Alun Wyn Jones, Linford Christie, Nicole Cooke, Ron Jones, Kirstie Wade, David Hemery, John Hartson Shane Williams, Lillian Board, Lynne ‘The Leap’ Davies, Mary Rand, Ann Packer Brightwell and Stan Eldon – among many others.
Mr Baldwin retired as race organiser after many years, handing the reins over to the Local Authority. It continues to be run by Rhondda Cynon Taf Council and the Nos Galan Committee, with Bernard Baldwin MBE appointed as Honorary President of the Nos Galan Road Races in 2006.
As well as being the man responsible for the Nos Galan Road Races and the Taff Street Dash, Mr Baldwin is also a well-respected local historian and author of many books, publications and newspaper and magazine articles.
The Nos Galan Road Races are now officially recognised as one of the ‘Top 500’ races in the world, alongside the likes of the iconic New York Marathon, Boston Marathon, London Marathon and the Great North Run.
The Nos Galan Road Races has also been shortlisted once again this year at the UK Running Awards.
Rhondda Cynon Taf Council granted Bernard Baldwin MBE the Freedom of the County Borough on October 1, 2014, in recognition of his tremendous contribution to the world of athletics and the Nos Galan Road Races.
Bernard Baldwin MBE is survived by wife Pat, daughter Alison and son-in-law David. Funeral arrangements will be announced shortly.