I have only just found out that our dear friend, Merryl Wynn-Davies, otherwise affectionately known as ‘Our Merryl’, died of a heart attack on 1st Feb 2021, in Petaling Jaya.
During our weekly Wednesday meeting in Bangsar, we were reminiscing about the old days and wondered about Merryl. A quick review of Wikipedia revealed the sad news that she had passed away some nine months earlier.
As far as my memory serves, Merryl first came to the KL folk club’s attention, or was it the other way around, during an Eisteddfod which she had organised for the Welsh Society in KL in the early 1990s. She loved anything folky and quickly became a member of the folk club family regaling us with many of her poems, that were written, it must be said, mostly by WWI poets. It became a standing joke as she was frequently and humorously taunted from the audience.
Merryl was indeed the life and soul of the folk club. She enjoyed life to the full and the worldly pleasures of smoking and wine did not pass her by!
She was always willing to perform for the KL Folk Society at the regular folk nights in the Commonwealth Club, Damansara Heights, and was subsequently elected – or was it pressganged – to be Chairperson for the 1997 Kuala Lumpur 3rd International Folk Festival.
On occasions, we would hold KLFS committee meetings at Merryl’s lovely house in Damansara Heights, which was always accompanied by Merryl’s superb cooking (mostly our requested Asian curries) along with a glass or two of wine.
It was on a such an occasion I was browsing through her well stocked book shelves and noticed that she was the author of a number of books. Upon further examination all her books were about aspects of the Muslim faith!
What a revelation to find out that Merryl was a Muslim convert since she had not adopted a Muslim name as is normally the case. Merryl, who was a Muslim free-thinker, was not going to change her lifestyle. Good on her!
It was also on that occasion that she revealed she was Anwar Ibrahim’s script writer!
She had avoided disclosing that fact on more than one occasion, referring vaguely to working for ‘The Company’, when asked about what she did for a living. Little did we know it was Anwar’s organization that she was referring to.
Alas, in 1998, following the well documented undoing of Anwar, she fled under threat of political recriminations to the relative safety of Singapore and then onward to Batam Island where she remained at a beach resort for a protracted period.
Merryl had told us, deadly seriously, that she would last exactly 24 hours in a Malaysian prison! We believed her…
In 1999, during the Chinese New Year holiday, we were requested by Merryl to replenish her stocks of goodies so that she could to keep living in the manner in which she was accustomed.
We enjoyed a pleasant weekend with her then and we were treated once again to Merryl’s fine cooking skills. We were, of course, concerned for her future and wondered just what was what the future held.
That was to be the last we saw of Merryl as we learnt she eventually returned back to the Welsh valleys and home town of Merthyr Tydfil to and start life anew…or so we thought.
There is a restaurant in Bangsar called Southern Rock Seafood at which a number of us would play folk music once a month. During such an event in November 2019, as we were playing a song, I noticed a lady with a Zimmer frame, helped by a and a young man, entering the premises. I whispered to Steve next to me that I thought she looked like Merryl. OMG it was! We both shouted out “Merryl” in full voice, waving our arms enthusiastically, which didn’t exactly fit with the song in progress, but we didn’t care!
Immediately we left the group to carry on playing and went over to her. She hadn’t changed one iota – full of whit and fun.
However, it transpired that she was not at all well – although given her enthusiasm and humour you would not have noticed – but it was obvious that her illness had badly affected her mobility – hence, her use of a Zimmer frame.
After our performance we settled down with her and C. Scott Jordan, her colleague, and had a nice long discussion about old times and why she was back in KL again.
It was at that time we learnt that she had returned to KL to work for Anwar once again.
Unfortunately, we had re-discovered Merryl in mid-November, which was just after our KLFS KL Reunion that finished in late October. Such a shame she didn’t get to meet other KLFS members at the reunion. Two weeks too late!
In 2020 we saw her once again at the same restaurant, but despite sending her further emails I never heard from her again. We all knew Merryl as a friend and lover of folk in all of its form, but the other side of Merryl is very much worth mentioning here.
She became a director of the re-founded Muslim Institute in London in 2010 and is a noted author and scholar of free-thinking Islamic thought. See below the impressive Muslim Institute’s obituary.
Additionally, you might want to listen to dedications from members of the Institute that formed a Zoom meeting in 2021 following her death. It is very touching and heart-felt and really gives you an insight into the other side of Merryl.
RIP Our Merryl
Some memorable KLFS Festival programme extracts and photos of Merryl appear below: