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'My father was like Dr Doolittle' Great-gran Diana Wilson has just published her first book - a biography of her father - despite battling through four cancer diagnoses. She spoke to Kirstie McCrum.

Byline: Kirstie McCrum

Recovering from her latest chemotherapy treatment, Diana Wilson looks a picture of happiness as she talks about her family.

The 71-year-old great-grandmother, who has recently received her fourth cancer diagnosis, is happiest at home in Ynysybwl, where she lives with her husband Ken, who suffers from Parkinson's disease. The couple have four daughters, seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, all of whom hold a special place in Diana's heart.

Family has always been important to Diana, one of three sisters, and the former social worker has recently finished writing a biography of her father, 27 years after losing him to cancer.

Shepherd Tommy Jones was renowned as an "absolute wonderman" with sheepdogs and horses.

"My father was self-taught to train dogs, and worked as a shepherd for the Ocean Coal Company in the 1930s in Treorchy.

"He taught the dogs to do all sorts of incredible things to help him - to lead a pony by the reins on top of the mountain because he didn't have anything to tie the reins to if he had to see to the sheep, and even to feed lambs with a bottle," Diana says.

Word of Tommy's skills got around, and film company British Screen Services came to make a film of him at work in 1936. Sheep Dog was a huge success and became known all over the world, even being picked as the best nature film to be shown in the New York World's Fair.

Watching Sheep Dog, featuring Tommy's first dog Scott, brings memories rushing back for Diana, who has inherited her father's love for animals.

"He was almost like a little Doctor Dolittle, my father, he used to get inside the animals' heads. As he got older, he said he wanted to tell the world about Scott, so he started writing a book on whatever he could find to write on," Diana remembers.

Diana had trained to be a typist, and one day her father asked her if she would pull the fragments of his book together.

"He'd never showed it to anybody, it was locked away in the sideboard, but he gave it to me to type. A couple of years before he died he said if anything happened to him that I should finish it," she says.

Tommy died in 1984, aged 84. It wasn't until May of this year that Diana finally finished the book that tells the story of his life.

"It was a mammoth task because I had to get all his bits together and I wanted to make it absolutely accurate, so it took me 17 years," she recalls.

After many late nights and early mornings, the self-published Shepherd of the Hills was ready, but Diana says that it wasn't just about writing the story down.

"I decided that I was going to give pounds 2 of every book sold to Cancer Research Wales, because my father died of pancreatic cancer and because of my own cancer," she says.

"The first time I had cancer, my father was dying and we were nursing him at home. I discovered this lump and I didn't tell anybody for weeks. I went to the doctor and he sent me to the hospital. They wanted me to go in and have an operation, but I said I couldn't because of my father," she reveals.

After losing her father, Diana went into hospital three days later and had a mastectomy.

Two years after that, in 1986, a routine check showed a tumour on the wall of the chest, which was removed. In 2003, a month after she lost her mother, Diana was diagnosed again and underwent treatment at Velindre Cancer Care in Cardiff.

The most recent diagnosis was made in the last two months, and Diana says she's glad she finished her father's book before her illness.

"Last year when I turned 70 I started thinking, 'if I don't finish this book it's not going to be done'.

"I want people who knew my father or knew of him to read about the book, but I'm also glad that I've sent pounds 800 off to Cancer Research Wales. That's the aim of this," she says.

Diana says that, with the help of her family, she will fight the illness, and she's determined to raise as much money as she can for Cancer Research.

"I had my first mastectomy when I was in my 40s and the consultant was the most wonderful man. I've never forgotten his words - he told me that cancer has no boundaries. I have never forgotten that, and I have always wanted to support cancer research, because it does affect every family."

* For more information on how to buy a copy of Shepherd of the Hills, contact Kirstie McCrum on 029 2024 3769


* Diana's father Tommy taught himself to train sheepdogs to help him
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Aug 3, 2011
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