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Obituary: Jan Morris, 'a real treasure to Wales'

image captionSoldier, journalist, novelist, travel writer, and trans-pioneer Jan Morris has died

Born in England, writer Jan Morris embraced her father's Welsh identity to become a convinced nationalist.

A successful author, she initially achieved fame as the newspaper reporter who broke the story of Sir Edmund Hilary's ascent of Everest.

She was living with her partner Elizabeth when she died at 94 and asked to be buried on a small island on the River Dwyfor behind their Gwynedd home.

She wrote the epitaph: 'Here are two friends at the end of one life.'

Her life story was crammed with romance, discovery and adventure. She was a soldier, an award-winning journalist, a novelist and - as a travel writer - became a poet of time and place.

She was known also a pioneer in her personal life, as one of the first high-profile figures to change gender, and would later become a staunch Welsh nationalist.

Born James Morris to a Welsh father and English mother in Clevedon, Somerset, she more recently lived in Llanystumdwy, Gwynedd.

She accepted a CBE from the Queen out of "politeness", she said, and was honoured too by the Eisteddfod, as a member of the Gorsedd of the Bards and awarded for her contribution to Welsh life.

Wales' First Minister, Mark Drakeford wrote on Twitter he was "very sad" to hear of Jan Morris' death.

"Such an incredibly talented author and what an amazing life she had," he said.

"She was a real treasure to Wales. My thoughts are with her family and friends at this time."

image copyrightRoyal Geographical Society
image captionMorris (second from left) greets Sir Edmund Hillary on his return from the summit of Everest

Her output was prodigious. In all, she wrote more than 40 books - so many that she was often a little hazy about the exact number.

However she first found fame after writing about the successful expedition of Sir Edmund Hillary and sherpa Tenzing Norgay to conquer Mount Everest in 1953.

Her work contributed to the resignation of British Prime Minister Anthony Eden some months later and to the withdrawal of British troops from Egypt.

image copyrightKeystone
image captionThe reports Morris sent from the Suez crisis caused great difficulty for the British government

Professor Angharad Price, who has written about Morris, called her "one of the most amazing people I've ever met".

"When she spoke to you, you felt like she wanted to listen," she said.

"She was such a character. She's met all types of people and had so many stories."

And nature writer Robert Macfarlane called her "one of the most extraordinary, inspiring, kindest people I ever had the luck to meet."

As James she married Elizabeth Tuckniss in 1949. They have three sons and one daughter - Twm Morus, Henry Morris, Mark Morris and Suki Morus.

'Such a special person'

In 1972 she travelled to Casablanca, Morocco, for a gender reassignment operation.

Her book Conundrum in 1974, the first to be published as Jan Morris, discussed her new identity and explained that gender did not affect how a person writes.

Jan and Elizabeth continued to live happily after the operation although they had to divorce because two women could not be married to each other at the time.

image captionJan Morris, pictured in 1974, was legally required to divorce her wife, Elizabeth, but the couple remained together

In 2008, almost 60 years after first getting married, Jan and Elizabeth announced that they would remarry in a civil partnership as the law now allows.

Towards the end of her life, she talked about being worried about being defined for her sexuality rather than for her work.

In an article for BBC Cymru Fyw in March this year, Twm Morus said Jan Morris' contribution to the world since 1972 had been "tremendous" and there was "no bigger fan than me".

And he paid tribute to her partner, Elizabeth, "my mother," saying that "the pile of books that [Jan] has written over her long career is unlikely to have happened without her partner."

image copyrightRichard Whitehead/NPG
image captionJan Morris with her son, poet and musician Twm Morus


Jan Morris started travelling while serving in the army aged 17.

At 23 she went to study English at Oxford before working as a foreign correspondent for The Times, and later The Guardian, in the Middle East.

Though she wrote several travel books, she did not want to be defined as a travel writer.

"I'm a writer who travels, not a travel writer," she said.

Her trilogy 'Pax Britannica' about the fall of the British Empire, is often considered her most important work.

She's best known for her books about the cities and countries she travelled to - including Hong Kong, New York, Venice and Wales.

She was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the Thomas Cook Travel Book special award for outstanding contribution to travel writing.

In 2005 she won the Golden Pen Award for her outstanding contribution to literature.

In 2008 she was 15th on The Times' list of the best writers in Britain since World War II.

She received her CBE "in courtesy" in 1999, despite nationalist and republican beliefs.

image copyrightDavid Hartley/REX/Shutterstock
image captionMorris published more than 40 books - although one remains with her publisher with instructions to be published posthumously

Considered one of the finest writers the UK has produced in the post-war era, her son Twm Morus confirmed her death on Friday.

"This morning at 11.40 at Ysbyty Bryn Beryl, on the Llyn, the author and traveller Jan Morris began her greatest journey.

"She leaves behind on the shore her life-long partner, Elizabeth."

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