Byron Jenkins, who has died at the age of 82, was very much a man for all seasons, a hard-working and much respected and admired figure in Llanelli.
He was best known for being the owner of the Best Western Diplomat Hotel, Llanelli, the venue for so many great Llanelli ‘occasions’.
His life was rich and varied. He cherished family and friends above all else.
His great friend Phil Bowen has written the following ‘Tribute to a true Llanelli gentleman and inspirational successful businessman’ –
Byron Jenkins was born in Llanelli and brought up in Park View, before moving on to Raby Street.
Byron’s mother moved to Llanelli from Kilgetty near Saunderfoot.
Byron lost his father through an accident in the Llanelli Steelworks when he was just seven years old.
His mother never remarried and devoted her life to Byron, bringing him up as single mum.
Byron was a pupil at Pentip Junior School, before going to the old Coleshill School for Boys.
Byron then studied further education at the old Llanelli Technical College.
Byron’s first job was an apprenticeship at the Llanelli Steelworks, where he qualified as an electrical engineer.
Byron met and married the love of his life, Marlene, whose parents owned the Ty Melyn Pub (in those days a great Llanelli landmark).
Still young and very ambitious, Byron worked at Cynheidre Colliery as an electrican, before setting his goals even higher and moving abroad to work.
Byron settled in Ghana, West Africa, where he was employed as an electrical engineer in a mine.
His work ethics were soon appreciated and he was promoted and became the ‘Chief Electrical Engineer’.
When settled and happy with the surroundings, Byron called for Marlene and their three-month-old son Paul to join him in Ghana. Their daughter Georgina was born 13 months later, while the family were still living in West Africa.
The Jenkins family stayed in West Africa for 11 years, but frequently returned to their home town of Llanelli to visit family and friends.
Byron was passionate about Llanelli and it was a passion that stayed with him throughout his life.
While on one vacation back to Llanelli, Byron and Marlene saw that the ‘The Ael-y Bryn House’ (now The Diplomat Hotel) was on the market for sale.
Byron had the vision to transform the old broken down mansion into a luxury hotel.
(Historical note: Ael-y-Bryn was once home to Llanelli industrialist Ernest Trubshaw, the grandfather of Brian Trubshaw, who rose to international fame as the test pilot for the supersonic airliner Concorde)
After a series of negotiations, Byron finally purchased the property. It was the place where he was to make his dream come true.
The Jenkins family returned to Ghana and, within a few months, sold up and moved back to Llanelli.
Byron starting the much required renovations as soon as his feet hit the ground.
‘The Diplomat Hotel’ project took Byron three very long years before the venue opened the doors for business.
Byron and Marlene opened the ground floor bar and restaurant, together with six bedrooms.
Within a few months, another six bedrooms were added, making a total of 12.
After establishing a sought-after hotel with excellent service and value for money, Byron had further plans to expand ‘The Diplomat’. He set out plans to create a further 24 bedrooms, function suite and indoor spa.
Retaining its original character, coupled with an excellent record for service, ‘The Diplomat’ became a sought-after stay for sporting legends – and even Prime Ministers!
It quickly earned a reputation for hosting wedding receptions and night-time parties most weekends, along with and many other social occasions.
The hotel now has 50 bedrooms, a function suite for up to 350 guests, restaurants, a luxury indoor swimming pool and spa.
Byron loved his music and started Llanelli’s Music and Jazz Festival 22 years ago. He loved organising the event with his friends. Each event was quite unique as they raised funds for various local charties.
Byron had a lovely voice and would often be called upon to entertain his guests, friends and family most Saturday evenings in the main lounge of his dream hotel.
Exceeding his dream, Byron, with the help Marlene, Paul and Georgina, transformed what was once a broken down mansion into a one of the leading Best Western hotels in Britain.
Long live ‘The Diplomat Hotel’.
It is also worth noting the Byron Jenkins ‘Castle Buildings’ Project . . .
Byron bought ‘Castle Buildings’ (on the corner of Murray Street and Station Road) Llanelli in 1989.
This imposing structure stands on a corner section of a plot of land that was formerly known as Pen-y-Castell.
Historians believe this site was once the location of an ancient fort, probably a small Roman station or fortlet, hence its name.
Today, it houses the restaurants and bars known as Langostinos and the Vista Lounge.
In 1989, Byron opened Le Caprice, which became hugely popular and became one of West Wales’ most popular bars.
Byron recently project managed the conversion of the first and second floors into luxury accommodation, creating a extra 20 hotel bedrooms now known as the ‘Vista Hotel’.
Finally, on a personal note, Byron was a true gentleman and great friend.
Byron sponsored the AlvaHorse Easter Parades in Llanelli for 15 years.
Byron would give up his time, every Easter Sunday, for all the participating equestrians, their friends and families.
Greeting people on arrival (and welcoming them back), Byron would give everyone a hot bowl of soup and a bread roll.
Horses and ponies would leave ‘gifts’ for Byron, gifts he would say helped “make my roses blooom”.
He was a true Llanelli legend.
RIP Mr Byron Jenkins. Heaven is now a better place.
Here are some other memories of Byron Jenkins . . . .
Robert Lloyd, former editor of the Llanelli Star, said: “Byron was a major figure in the life of Llanelli. He was very proud of his town and his own achievements. Always approachable, he was frequently a great font of knowledge on all matters relating to the town.
“He lent his support to many local charities (and businesses). He also played his part in helping and nurturing talent in Llanelli. Singers, comedians, entertainers, they all had a debt of gratitude to Byron.
“He was always a great ‘mine host’ and always took a keen interest in visitors, guests and patrons of the hotel. The name “The Diplomat’ was synonymous with Byron Jenkins.”
Rupert Moon, former Llanelli Scarlets rugby captain said: “Great guy. Huge supporter of loads of charities. Thoughts with all his family. Good to us as players at Llanelli RFC. RIP Byron.”
Phil Davies, former Llanelli Scarlets rugby captain and coach, said: “Sorry to hear of Byron’s passing and sincere condolences to his family. Had many a great night with him at ‘The Dip’ over the years. A very thoughtful and generous gentleman. RIP. Top Man.”
Rhys Walters (son of Monro Walters, the Parc y Scarlets and Stradey Park rugby announcer known as ‘The Voice of the Scarlets’) said: “Very sad. He taught me how to open a bottle of champagne – correctly! Always was a bit of class.”
Funeral details –
The funeral will be held on Monday, September 17, with a public service at 12noon followed by interment in the churchyard.