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National Director of Diabetes UK Cymru, Dai Williams retires

All the clichés of pastures new literally apply here, as Dai leaves the wilderness of the Welsh countryside near Abergavenny to start a new life in France.

Dai joined Diabetes UK in 2008 and thew himself into the role, tirelessly campaigning for people living with diabetes in Wales. His own experience with his son, Sam, diagnosed with type 1 aged 13, has informed his work and the way he connected with parents and others needing support and advice on how to manage the condition and access services.

Dai said: “The issue is all too familiar for kids living with diabetes and their families. Sam was diagnosed late, the GP missed it, even with him being so ill and skeletal.

“It came to a point, where we were so worried that we took him to hospital where he was diagnosed and stayed for three days. An extra day without treatment and we would have lost him.”

An executive producer at BBC Wales before he took the job at Diabetes UK, Dai studied biochemistry at University of London. He met his teacher and artist wife Anna at university while she was studying French.

At the BBC, he got interested in nutrition, ageing, long-term conditions, Welsh history and the environment, which he covered in a series of documentaries, including a landmark series with correspondent John Humphreys on post-war Wales, which covered the Aberfan mine disaster.

“I am of the same generation and grew up a few miles from there in Merthyr Tydfil, so it was very personal. And it all started with a conversation with a grave digger. Back then, I already felt strongly about empathetic and sensitive storytelling, particularly using video.” 

Dai then worked with the US artist Shimon Attie, who also has type 1, on a programme on memory and place in Aberfan to mark the 40th anniversary of the disaster before applying to Diabetes UK.

“I never thought I would stay this long at Diabetes UK, as I had tried to retire before, because of my MS playing up, but I found it impossible. I was new to the third sector, but the team we developed in Wales and the connection with our supporters and volunteers kept me going. I felt people didn’t understand diabetes and I wanted to push for more change and action.” Dai

Dai’s highlights at Diabetes Cymru were many, but these spring to his and the team’s mind: setting up the cross party group with Jason Harding, getting the type 1 4 Ts Campaign off the ground, launching the Type 1 and Tech Conference as well as pushing for prevention plans and support of people with type 2 diabetes.

The partnership with One Bloody Drop and Front Runner Events for the Sawnsea Half Marathon defined Dai’s time at Diabetes Cymru. It started with Paul Coker who celebrated his 40 years with type 1 diabetes by running 40 marathons. Paul and Dai attracted 69 runners with type 1 for the Swansea Half in 2018, breaking a World Record. And his close work with Mel Stephenson-Grey, now our Trustee, began with Mel carrying the Olympic Torch to Cardiff Castle in 2012.

The Campaign on type 1 and children and the risk of DKA was spearheaded by Beth Baldwin who lost her son, Peter, of undiagnosed type 1 in 2015. Again, Dai’s passion for spreading awareness and empathy for people would shape the collective work done around the issue. A similar relationship that he developed with Wendy Gane, one of our longest and closest supporters, meant that Dai was key to the work around people living in deprived communities.

In 2012, Dai met with Mark Drakeford, now First Minister and then Health Minister, influencing the Welsh Government’s approach to diabetes and putting it firmly on the agenda, never letting politicians or others off the hook.

“Dai is a force of nature, fiercely loyal and dedicated to the team, and is always the first one to join races, swimming in freezing waters, being fished out of lake Bala or other activities to support our fundraising. His message was that people with diabetes and other conditions can do sports and live a full life.” Joseph Cuff, Regional Fundraising Officer, who has worked at Diabetes UK for 25 years.

When the Covid-19 pandemic started, Dai relocated to his son’s old room and became a familiar fixture in zoom meetings with his unconventional t-shirts and his menagerie (three dogs and a cat) making guest appearances in video calls.

In retirement, Dai will be able to indulge his eccletic interests in jazz, pickled tongue (a Welsh delicacy), art, ancient history, science and anything that tickles his curiosity.

The team will miss Dai’s sense of humour, enthusiasm, wide range of interests and unorthodox approach.  

Wela i chi cyn bo hir (see you soon).

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