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EPISODE #29

Take me home, country roads: One man's journey from Rhymney to West Virginia

Gareth Hughes
  • Born in Wales
  • Dallas, TX, USA via West Virginia and Ohio
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My life's journey started in the coal mining valleys of South Wales. My parents were young when they had me. My Dad had quit school to go to work to support the family, first at a sewing machine factory and then at the mines. Much to the chagrin of her father, my Mum skipped going to university to raise me. We lived with my Grandparents, on my Dad's side, in Abertysswyg, a small coal mining village in the Rhymney Valley.

"When I was 11, my Dad was offered the opportunity to come to America to run a coal mine. We moved to West Virginia, a state not unlike Wales with hills, rivers, and coal."

My Grandfather was a coal miner. He’d started working in the mines when he was 14. He later lost a lung to black lung disease but never lost his zest for life and for helping others. Even with only one lung, and having been born with one leg shorter than the other, he walked for miles every day into the village, usually with his loyal dog alongside, to bring back food and mail for the neighbours. My Grandparents didn't have much, but they more than made it for it with the care that they showed to others. Community was important to them.

Photo: In Abertysswg with Judy, my grandparents' Corgi.

Eventually, my parents were able to buy their own house. When I turned three, we moved to Rhymney. At one end of the street was a pub where my parents were barkeeps from time to time for extra money. Next to our house was a brewery, which is no longer there. Neither is our house, it blew up. But that's another story.

When I was 11, my Dad was offered the opportunity to come to America to run a coal mine. We moved to West Virginia, a state not unlike Wales with hills, rivers, and coal. During school, I had taken an interest in both chemistry and math and I eventually became the first person in my family to go to university. I ended up studying Chemical Engineering at the University of Cincinnati, just a few hours away from my parents in West Virginia. Far enough away to feel free but close enough to pop back for the weekend for some home cooking and to have my Mum do my washing!

"I'm so proud to be Welsh... We are our own country with our own language and our own history. My 'can do' attitude and feeling anything is possible and positive outlook on life is a testament to my Welsh upbringing."

While studying in Cincinnati, I became interested in biology and medicine. As an engineer at heart, medical school didn't appeal to me. I always liked to take stuff apart to see how it worked and try to fix things when they broke - which didn't always pan out. Probably not a good thing if you're a doctor, so I stuck with engineering. After finishing up at Cincinnati, I went to the University of Minnesota to get my Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering.

Photo: Me and my brother at the mine where my Dad worked in Wales.

It was during my graduate school days at Minnesota when I began my career as an entrepreneur. Much of my Ph.D. research was funded by biotech and medtech startups. The research group at the university where I worked helped to create DNA sensors, gene chips, miniature spectrometers, portable point-of-care diagnostic devices, and many other cutting-edge technologies to enable bringing laboratory capability to the patient.

In 1998, I was hired as the first full-time employee of a medtech startup developing miniature endoscopes. My passion for startups was just beginning and I have been involved with startups ever since. Over the past 25 years, I have launched five companies and guided numerous other startups in their early stages. I've mentored student entrepreneurs, guest lectured at universities, and volunteered my time to help rehabilitated prisoners launch their own businesses to help them build a better life for themselves and their families.

"Today, I am living and working in Dallas, Texas. I have always maintained my connection with my homeland, from keeping in touch with my family in the Valleys, to watching the rugby whenever it's on to keeping up with research at the Welsh universities."

I'm so proud to be Welsh. My passion for doing my own thing (which my parents sometimes called 'stubborn') is firmly rooted in the independent ways of being Welsh. We are our own country with our own language and our own history. My 'can do' attitude and feeling anything is possible and positive outlook on life is a testament to my Welsh upbringing.

Photo: Back in Cardiff with cousins and friends from the USA to watch Wales at the Principality Stadium.

In 2019, I was diagnosed with Stage III Colon Cancer. After getting half my colon removed and going through six months of chemotherapy (a lovely experience I tell you), I'm now cancer free. I'm not sure if my Welsh blood helped, but the fight that I have in my Welsh heart certainly did. The Welsh are a resilient bunch of people of which I'm proud to be part of.

Today, I am living and working in Dallas, Texas. I have always maintained my connection with my homeland, from keeping in touch with my family in the Valleys, to watching the rugby whenever it's on to keeping up with research at the Welsh universities. I've recently joined the GlobalWelsh’s Connector Programme pilot to help raise awareness of Welsh innovation here in the United States and to foster relationships between Welsh startups and businesses and investors here in the USA. Cymru am byth!

Ymunwch â GlobalWelsh

Dewch yn rhan o dyfiant rhwydwaith ar-lein o bobl Gymeig sy’n cydweithio ar gyfer y gorau i Gymru gan gefnogi eraill, archwilio cyfleoedd busnes a rhannu gwybodaeth.

Ymunwch â GlobalWelsh

Straeon

Gweld popeth
Episode 28

The law graduate who networked her way to an opportunity

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