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beloved one of a kind shopkeeper dies as beautiful tributes paid
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Beloved ‘one-of-a-kind’ shopkeeper dies as beautiful tributes paid

The tributes talk of a man who could never do enough to help others, who was a kind ear, who could fill a shop with laughter, and was a local institution. To his family Ron Thomas was a one-off, a beloved dad and granddad, and the kindest man to the very end. Known as Ronnie he was the lynchpin of Cardiff institution Clarence Hardware, a treasure trove of a shop packed with household items and also the irreplaceable knowledge of the family team who work there. Since Ronnie’s death on February 6 dozens of messages have been shared from those who knew him and had benefited from his help over the years. Born in June 1941 he was one of nine children. Growing up in Welsh St Donats his father worked for the forestry commission. Ron’s daughter Helen Leyshon said: “They had nothing but had everything. They didn’t have a lot financially, and would have been considered poor really, but they had the whole forest to play in and each other. They were, and still are, the closest family.” READ MORE: Heavy rain causes landslide on major road READ MORE: ‘My street constantly floods even when there isn’t heavy rain’ Even as they grow up the siblings and their children would all meet at Ron’s childhood home every Sunday for tea with all the children playing in the woods while they would play rounders in the big field and go hunting for the latest rope swings that had been built as well as feeding the horses. When one of his younger siblings was ill the doctor had called to visit the family home and watched Ron come into the house after playing in the garden and spotted he was particularly out of breath and very red in the face – unusually so for a young child. After checks it wasn’t clear if anything could be done so he was monitored until he stopped growing to see if the problem self-corrected. By the time he turned 18 it was clear it wouldn’t and it was decided he needed surgery. Aged 24, just after getting married, he had open heart surgery and is believed to have been the first to have that procedure at Sully Hospital with doctors flown in especially. “Having gone through that I think that’s why he was always just so happy and he had a different outlook to life where he just loved life and everything about it,” said Helen. Ron met his future wife Janet when they were 20 at a dance at City Hall and they married two years later at St John’s church in Canton, Cardiff, going on to have children Martyn and Helen. Having decided he didn’t want to go into farming Ron first worked at Cardiff firm Perkins and Seward where he met Trevor Parker, who had started the Grangetown shop in 1959. In around 1960-61 Ron went to work in the shop, having taken it over from Mr Parker, and Martyn said a member of the Thomas family has worked in there ever since. Ron employed his youngest brother, Leslie, and his wife, Mavis, who worked there for 18 years. “It was a proper family business,” said Helen. It has become a local institution where people go for a range of items and are constantly amazed by the wealth of products and knowledge from Martyn, Ronnie, and now Martyn’s wife Suzanne too. Helen said: “I always think of it as a hub more than just a shop. People go in for a small thing but might stay for 20 minutes for a chat about their family or something going wrong in their lives. My dad loved the people. He loved all different types of people, wherever they were from, whatever their background. He would listen to everyone’s story and loved their history. Anyone who went into the shop was always treated respectfully and with friendship even if they were only buying something for 25p. “Clarence Hardware was his favourite place in the whole world – he wouldn’t have a bad word said about it we couldn’t keep him out of there. He just loved Grangetown,” she said. “He was going never going to retire,” said Helen. “And when Martyn took it over he was still in there all the time. It was his outlet even when he was first diagnosed and taken ill.” After more than 60 years together Janet getting a dementia diagnosis had been understandably hard to take – as had her moving to a home in Penarth. Every day he would drive to see her and take her out even as he battled his own health condition having been diagnosed with cancer. Ron was told he was terminally ill and immediately said he didn’t want treatment, Helen believes the main reason for this was that he would no longer be able to see his wife every day. The day after his last shift in the shop Helen found him at home in agony and he was taken by ambulance to the University Hospital of Wales where doctors told the family they couldn’t believe he was still talking and not unconscious having discovered a 20cm perforation in his bowel and developing sepsis. Four times that night the doctors told them he wouldn’t survive but three weeks later he went home. “They had no idea how he had recovered,” she said. At the turn of the year he went to Llandough hospital with further issues before two weeks ago moving to the Marie Curie hospice in Penarth – a place Helen cannot praise enough for their care. “It was one fight too many,” she said. He was a devoted and much-loved grandfather to James, Ben, Sophie, and Emily. “We always knew if he could drop dead in work he’d have been happy,” Helen said. The family have been blown away by the messages, bouquets of flowers, and visits to the shop for nothing more than to give Martyn a hug. “He was loved by so many people and it’s making it easier to deal with,” she said. “When I read them I am sobbing and it’s very difficult but I am reading them and I just see they knew my dad so well. They tell of stories of him having them in stitches in the shop and that was totally who he was. If he couldn’t help somebody he would always tell them where they should be going. He was a one-off,” she said. For her the best story to demonstrate her dad’s selflessness was a few days before he died. Struggling to come round Martyn managed to stir him and asked how he was. “Never mind me,” said Ronnie. “Are you okay?” “If anything summed up my dad it’s that. He was so terribly ill and he was asking if Martyn was okay,” said Helen. His funeral will be held at midday on Friday, March 8, at Cardiff and Glamorgan crematorium and afterwards there will be a reception at Cardiff City FC.

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