Telsa Christina Gwynne

[picture of Telsa]
In the wash of the waves upon the Swansea shore I will always hear your voice
In the blowing sand on the dawn silent beach I will always see your footsteps
For you were my rainbow
And always will be

Telsa was born on 6th December 1969 in Newcastle General Hospital, which was originally constructed as the Infirmary for the Newcastle Union workhouse; so she always enjoyed telling people she had been born in a workhouse. She spent her childhood in the North-East but throughout it she made frequent family trips to her grandparents in Crickhowell, in what was then Breconshire rather than Powys. With a Welsh father, and the much loved visits, her love of Wales and all things Welsh therefore began from a very early age.

As a child in Newcastle she enjoyed all the usual young-girl activities. dancing classes, riding classes, piano lessons and so on and it is here that can be found much of what became her great passions as an adult:  love of music, of the natural world and of the theatre. She had also enjoyed regular trips to the local theatre where she saw many performers, then little known, who were later destined to become well-known actors such as Julia Sawhala and John Hannah, along with familiar faces such as Richard O’Brien. She still retained many of the programmes signed by them. On her family holidays in France and Spain she was always eager to try out the language with the locals so it is perhaps little wonder that she embraced the Welsh language so wholeheartedly. It seemed very appropriate that she should eventually settle in Swansea where her father, a very long time ago, and her sister, not so long ago, had studied at the University and where she was not far from her grandparents.

Telsa never knew how to do things by halves; she embraced causes and cultures completely. There were signs of this at an early age; while still sixteen she was spending her weekends out in the wilds of Northumberland hunt sabbing in the winter, and campaigning with CND by summer. This enthusiasm for changing the world and making it a better place never left her, whether she was collecting for the University Rag, studying nursing, writing documentation for free software or encouraging everyone she knew to learn Welsh, her passion for her subjects was infectious.

At university in Aberystwyth she shared a house with Chris Samuel, a friend of Alan’s, and when Alan visited they met and she immediately disliked him. First impressions don’t always last and they soon became a couple, with Alan travelling up on the 701 bus each weekend. Once they had finished university Telsa, Alan, a friend and, after a certain amount of fast talking with the driver, all her belongings, travelled down on the 701 bus and she moved to Swansea where they set up home together. Alan eventually proposed to Telsa via online chat. She duly ordered him to do it properly in person, and that done she accepted. They were handfasted and then married in 1992.

Another constant in her life was her younger sister, Deb. It was always the intention of their parents that the two girls should be close, and in this they succeeded admirably, giving a lifetime of happiness, unconditional love and friendship to both the girls.  And, of course, unconditional little-sistering and big-sistering; anyone with siblings will understand what that means! From games of the ‘Cheetah and the Horse’ as children, to her older sister taking her to her first concert, Deb eventually followed Telsa to Wales when it was time for university, with Telsa being across in Aberystywyth and Deb in Swansea, which in due course led to them living in the same city for a few years, often in each other’s pockets. While life eventually separated them to different parts of the country, the early closeness never left them, and they remained together as much as possible, with Telsa finding reassurance in her final weeks by having her sister sharing a room in the same way they did as children.

Reading was a great passion of Telsa’s, and she would read everything from pulp fantasy fiction to serious academic studies, as well as notices and other people’s newspapers, with the same relish and speed. When travelling one of the challenges was always how to pack enough books into the luggage while ensuring Alan could still lift the suitcase. When she finally acquired a Kindle the luggage shrank dramatically. Not only did she read extensively but she could talk for hours about the books she had read, sharing recommendations with friends, or fishing out obscure references whilst watching University Challenge or Only Connect. She loved to spend Christmas with friends online or off, battling the King William’s College quiz, delighting in all the new facts she discovered.

Telsa had already learned a great deal about the academic computing network, and the Internet as it started to become more generally available. Her interests where never deeply technical, but instead about the people and communities it created. She became involved in the running of the Swansea University Computer Society, an active member of many newsgroups and online bulletin boards, and one of the keepers of the uk-pagans mailing list. Telsa described herself as a pagan/quaker and became involved in both communities, sharing the quaker values and the quiet space they offered even if not sharing quite the same religious view.

Through her interest in the computer society, and role-playing games Telsa maintained close links with the students and ex-students. The house often hosted parties or stray students being fed and attempting the guardian crossword together. Telsa kept in contact with many of them with several becoming her best friends.

Telsa’s caring nature lead her to become a volunteer at Hillside, before becoming a paid care-assistant and then training as a mental health nurse. While she loved working at Cefn Coed government cutbacks meant there were no jobs available and eventually she fell off the register.

When Alan began keeping a diary of his free software activities, Telsa felt it necessary to tell the rest of the story in her own inimitable style. Her diary rapidly became more popular than Alan’s as she wrote about the realities of living with a computer hacker, about reading books whilst lying on the shed roof to avoid the woodlice, going to folk festivals and reviewing theatre trips.

As well as providing a refuge from woodlice the shed came to symbolize Telsa’s passion for bright and contrasting colours. Faced with a choice of dark or light varnish Telsa proceeded to paint the shed in stripes. Telsa loved to wear brightly coloured clothing at gigs and folk festivals and would be seen dancing around like a duracell bunny in garishly coloured outfits that nobody ever forgot. She always knew how to have fun and to make sure everyone with her did too. Telsa loved finding new and wonderful music to play, often from outside the UK. Even more she loved introducing people to music they had never heard before.

Telsa adored the view of the Swansea seafront across to Mumbles, and walking for miles on the beach. She was most fond of it early in the morning when it was quiet and undisturbed. She would often be greeted at 6am by confused dog walkers wondering if she had mislaid a dog.

With Alan heavily involved in the free software community she joined in, and combined her love of grammar and language, her uncanny ability to see missing apostrophes at forty paces and her interest in online communities. She became one of the early testers and documenters for the GNOME desktop project, as well as writing other documentation and helping out users. She talked at conferences around the world, and had an article published in Linux Journal, but chose not to work on GNOME as a job when the opportunity arose. In later years she turned her writing skills to fan fiction, making lots of new friends in the process. Before falling ill she was considering a career in writing.

As one of the early prominent women in the free software movement she found the community rude, fractious and misogynistic. She became part of Linuxchix helping to support women in free software, and trying to change what was seen as acceptable behaviour online.

Telsa eventually decided that living in Wales, and planning to stay there she should learn Welsh. She set about this with her usual determination, first joining classes in Welsh and then also helping out in the Tŷ Tawe cafe where her Welsh improved in leaps and bounds. Not content to merely master the language she went on to study it to degree level, gaining a first, and collecting several prizes along the way. She went on to become a regular helper at Tŷ Tawe and in time joined the management committee, as well as continuing her involvement in free software helping translate software into Welsh.

After being diagnosed with breast cancer Telsa underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Throughout she remained positive, if rather tired, trying when she could to get out to the beach, to see theatre events and to meet friends. Once the chemo was complete she travelled to San Francisco to fulfill one of her long term dreams, greatly enjoying both the city and the nature around it.  One of the highlights of that trip was when she took her little sister’s advice and visited the tactile dome in the Exploratorium; by her own accounts, she liked it so much and stayed there so long that the staff thought she had got lost....

On her return home, she took the opportunities available, taking up art classes at Maggie’s, doing Yoga and one month even becoming the LC leisure centre’s ‘Shape up member of the month’ as she tried to get fit again.

Sadly her efforts to get fit started to fail as the cancer returned. Even then she continued to make the trips she could, using sticks and a wheelchair to make a final visit to ‘Return To The Forbidden Planet’ in Cardiff, and to theatre and gigs in Swansea.

In June she fell very ill and spent three weeks in hospital before being returned home in a bed, so that she could die at home watching the trees in the park. Although bed bound she spent the last months enjoying life as much as she could, taking up colouring, reading extensively, meeting with friends and with family visiting as often as they could. Enthalled by all of life’s facets, she also confounded doctor’s expectations by enjoying the whole of her final summer, months, rather than the few weeks anticipated.

Telsa died peacefully in her sleep on the 3rd November, surrounded by her family.

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