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EPISODE #20

The American TV exec and the mispronunciation of Davies

Michael Davies
  • Welsh Ancestry
  • Los Angeles
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Having the name “Davies” in the US comes with a bit of contention among friends and not an immeasurable amount of frustration on the part of its owner.

While it used to be a mission of mine to address American mispronunciation ‘DA-VEEZ’. Through weariness over the years, I learned to disregard it over time, even betraying the principle of saying it correctly myself out of the necessity of finding a reservation or an account.

The thing is that the proper pronunciation of my popular Welsh patronymic surname is a constant reminder of my underlying Welshness. I’m Welsh on my father’s side, his father’s family came from Lampeter and some of the surrounding villages.

"The thing is that the proper pronunciation of my popular Welsh patronymic surname is a constant reminder of my underlying Welshness. I’m Welsh on my father’s side, his father’s family came from Lampeter and some of the surrounding villages."

I am a Senior Vice President for Fox Sports Television in the United States, and have been living in the Los Angeles area for the last 12 years.

When someone asks me what I do, at Fox, my go-to answer is that “I take the blame when things break,” but that is only mostly true. My charge is to organize and manage teams who work on all of the operational activities for all of our sports programming - American Football, Soccer, Baseball, Auto Racing and many more.

This year is an especially busy one: we get to do the Women’s World Cup in France, the US Open in Pebble Beach and the Miami Super Bowl in early 2020 among 100’s of other sporting events.

This job keeps me in the air and, fortunately or otherwise, I’ve racked up enough miles to be a Diamond member until 2024. It was one of these trips that took me back to Wales in 2010.

"This job keeps me in the air and, fortunately or otherwise, I’ve racked up enough miles to be a Diamond member until 2024. It was one of these trips that took me back to Wales in 2010."

I was working in England during the summer UEFA Champions League Final at Wembley Stadium that year - Spain beat Barcelona 3 to 1 - and I had decided to stay on for a few days and drive to Wales after the game. While I had lived in England as a boy, if we had gone to Wales when we lived there, I could not remember it.

What I did remember were the stories that my father had told me about my relatives who lived in Wales - specifically his second cousin Julian Cayo Evans, who had passed away in the 1990’s.

It is worth mentioning that Julian (or “Cayo” as he was called) had an interesting and passionately Welsh past. The outgoing and somewhat disruptive son of my father’s Aunt that he went to boarding school with had turned to Welsh nationalism in later life, and gathered an activist group together that was as much anti-English as it was pro-Welsh.

It was known as the Free Wales Army, and their activities occupy a small part of the history of Wales in the late 1960’s. Julian - their spokesperson and PR man - was the charismatic face of the organization, which purported to support the nationalism of Wales in their “fight” against the English. The notion of the organization can be polarizing and political to its core, but the FWA or its like has not existed in decades.

"For someone living in Los Angeles, this beautiful part of Wales might as well be another planet - green everywhere, narrow streets and ancient buildings are the literal antithesis of where I have lived for the last 12 years."

There are a few books, at least one play, a proposed screenplay and one musical album (performed by Cayo himself) which catalog the history (and subsequent 15 month jailing) of several members of the FWA during the Investiture of Prince Charles in 1969.

Nevertheless, I understood that his son - almost my age - still lived at Glan Denys, the stately family manor outside of Lampeter with his wife and kids. Despite not calling ahead, putting together a plan or knowing these people at all, I decided to make it my goal on this trip to see this part of the country and visit them. I drove out from London and booked a room in a Lampeter hotel before setting out to try and find the house.

For someone living in Los Angeles, this beautiful part of Wales might as well be another planet - green everywhere, narrow streets and ancient buildings are the literal antithesis of where I have lived for the last 12 years. One thing I noticed straight away as I entered Lampeter was that everything was DAVIES - Davies Barristers, Davies Transportation, Davies News Sellers - true to what I had heard - the name DAVIES was everywhere.

With no satnav or decent cell signal, I became lost among the twisty country roads and stopped into a roadside pub - The Fisher’s Arms - to try and get my bearings.

“The Fisher’s” as the locals called it, was remote enough that it was not the kind of place that someone from overseas would normally find themselves. Even at 3pm or so, there was a small group in the smoke-filled room - some at the bar and some at a couch in the corner.

It didn’t take long for an older man to take interest in me and come over and ask if I was on holiday. I replied that indeed I was, but I was also looking for my cousin, and told him his name. The man took a step back as his face darkened - “Cayo Evans… You’re not one of those, are you?”

I told him that indeed I was, if not once or twice removed - and in fact my ancestors - my great grandfather and his father before him also had lived in and around Lampeter for generations.

Turning around in a louder voice so the rest of the bar could hear him he said, “Yes… we knew Cayo, come on, lad!” I spent the next few hours in the bar drinking and talking to the group - all who had known my older cousin - hearing stories about him, how he died, and his activities back during those exciting times in the late 1960’s. Eventually, they directed me to Glan Denys which was not far away, but involved some tricky turns and more getting lost nonetheless.

"I took a slow walk around the field and the chilly morning air - filled with butterflies and red kites. I took in the air and a few pictures to bring home thinking about my connection to this hilltop."

Spotting a sign which had the house’s name and advertising “rooms to let,” I drove up the long driveway. It was getting a bit late in the afternoon, but the mid-summer sky was still bright. A man working in front of the old house looked at my rental car as I was on my way up. Getting out, I told him who I was looking for, and he went inside to find him.

Out came a very tall and slender man - I introduced myself - I had indeed found my Welsh cousin whom I had never met and only heard about. I tried my best to trace my lineage for him - who my dad was - who my grandmother was - other relatives. Eventually we synced it up. He, in fact, did know my Dad (Johnny) - but hadn’t seen him since he was a little boy.

I met his wife, his son, and his young daughter.

"Hearing about the GlobalWelsh Community inspired me. I knew that this was a binding organization I needed to be a part of in connecting with those both at home and away which share this special bond."

The house was magnificent. An historic, once-burned manor house in the middle of a field of sheep and a few different breeds of horses. The family had just begun work in constructing various apartments and a bed-and-breakfast from the unused parts of the house. (Family promo - the bed and breakfast they have constructed at Glan Denys is a fantastic two bedroom ensuite, and worth a stay if in the area, easily found on Airbnb!)

My cousin was an encyclopedia of our Welsh family history - and he took his time with me to make connections to those who lived in England and there were no shortages of tales about his father. Also, in a bit of ‘Wales meets America’, he also showed me his prized Chevy Chevelle (complete with left-side steering wheel) that he found behind a bar and bought for a couple of hundred quid. He kept in immaculate working condition in his garage.

As the sun went down, I decided to carry on, and went back to town. I had something else to see the next morning before I left, a piece of land given to me by my father called Gilvyn. Gilvyn is about 40 acres of hilly sheep walk - with a small ruin on the site. What used to be a cottage has been torn down long ago and now a pile of rocks which one can barely trace out the makings of it’s foundation and a wall or two.

"I’ve brought my son to Wales to visit - his name is Kai - Welsh for “Keeper of the Keys” (but not completely dissimilar to Cayo) and he constantly asks when we can go and see “the land” again. It will be his someday."

I had seen old pictures of this place with my Dad as a boy, and his brother and sister and mother and father. This Welsh field is where 70 years ago or more, the Davies family had picnics and camping trips - bringing tents and sleeping overnight - sometimes the most affordable and least dangerous places during the War.

I took a slow walk around the field and the chilly morning air - filled with butterflies and red kites. I took in the air and a few pictures to bring home thinking about my connection to this hilltop.

Back now in Lampeter for my last night, I saw a group of kids - perhaps 14 or 15 - speaking familiarly together in Welsh. Hearing this language; never that I’d never heard elsewhere in the World and not from the elders, but the young sons and daughters of Wales, made me think that the pride of Wales and things Welsh is something I am very fortunate to be connected with.

So, it has been almost 10 years since this first visit and the Cayo Evans’ and our family connect as much as we can. I’ve brought my son to Wales to visit - his name is Kai - Welsh for “Keeper of the Keys” (but not completely dissimilar to Cayo) and he constantly asks when we can go and see “the land” again. It will be his someday.

"Wales has called to me as a home and maybe go back to one day for a much longer period of time."

Through the magic sleuthery of Ancestry.com, we have also found out that my wife and her patriarchal family also has their origins in Wales and Southern England, which could explain her innate affinity for the land. However, her promise of getting a Welsh Dragon tattoo upon marriage remains yet unfulfilled, I do not doubt her will to do so one day, particularly in light of this new information.

Hearing about the GlobalWelsh Community inspired me. Meeting one of the founding members, Nick Pearce, at a Las Vegas industry conference - and the fact that a small contest there was settled in a with a bottle of Penderyn - I knew that this was a binding organization I needed to be a part of in connecting with those both at home and away which share this special bond.

Wales has called to me as a home and maybe go back to one day for a much longer period of time. Over the years I’ve been back a few times - never, ever enough, of course. While removed and I live far away, my Welsh family, my heritage and the land where they live makes me feel like a Son of Wales -- and I’ve found myself correcting people again on my last name, and when they ask why, I can tell them, proudly - it's Welsh.

 

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