TRIBUTES are being paid to a leading figure in the Pembrokeshire and Welsh tourism industry.

Glyn Williams, 75, the founding father of Folly Farm Adventure Park and Zoo, died peacefully at Withybush Hospital on February 18 after a long illness.

Mr Williams was today praised as one of the tourism industry’s ‘greatest, most respected and humble pioneers’ by the Pembrokeshire Tourism organisation.

From the early days of agricultural diversification over 30 years ago, he took Folly Farm from a humble dairy enterprise into one of the most popular family attractions in the UK.

Pembrokeshire County Council chairman, Dr Simon Hancock, extended his sympathy to Mr Williams’ family in his announcements at the start of today’s full meeting of the authority.

Describing Mr Williams as ‘one of the county’s leading businessmen’, Dr Hancock added: “His vision and contribution to the tourist industry cannot be overstated, nor can his work in the field of animal conservation.

“Only recently, Folly Farm celebrated the birth of a critically-endangered Eastern black rhino – the first ever born in Wales.”

The baby rhino has been named Glyndŵr, in tribute to Mr Williams.

Although born in Haverfordwest, Mr Williams moved to Folly Farm with his parents George and Margaret when he was two years old.

He attended Begelly School and then Selwyn House School before joining his father on the dairy farm.

Glyn met the love of his life, Anne, at the Young Farmers Club, Martletwy and they married in 1967. They made their home at the Folly and the arrival of their two daughters, Justine and Karina, completed the family.

Glyn was always keen to try something new and so it followed that, in 1988, they opened Folly Farm as a tourist attraction. Now in its 32nd year, the park has grown immeasurably from those humble beginnings to be one of Wales’ top visitor attractions, attracting 500,000 visitors a year and employing close to 200 people during peak season.

Glyn oversaw many milestones in his time at Folly Farm. It was in 1996 that the very first vintage fairground ride was installed; Glyn’s lifelong passion finally brought to reality.

In 2002 the very first zoo animals were brought to the farm and in 2009, when Wales’ only giraffes were introduced, this marked a significant turning point for the business.

Under Glyn’s watchful eye, Folly Farm continued to grow and grow and the culmination of Glyn’s early vision was realised on January 16 this year with the birth of the baby rhino, who is set to become a vital part of the endangered species breeding programme.

Pembrokeshire and proud, Glyn was fiercely loyal to the surrounding community that had supported him and his business throughout the years. Wherever and whenever possible, he would support local groups and charities by offering Folly Farm’s facilities free of charge for their fundraising events.

Never one to court the limelight, Glyn was very humble about his achievements. However, it was in 2014 at the Pembrokeshire Tourism Awards held at The Wolfscastle Country Hotel that he was awarded the Outstanding Contribution to Tourism award in recognition of his achievements. This, just one of many awards and accolades bestowed upon Folly Farm over the years.

Outside of Folly Farm Glyn had a great passion for sports and enjoyed watching rugby, boxing and motor racing. He loved spending time with his family, friends and colleagues and will be deeply missed by everyone that met him.

On behalf of Pembrokeshire Tourism, the organisation’s tourism liaison manager, Dennis O’Connor, said: “The tourism industry in Pembrokeshire has been highly successful and vibrant for many years and today, we not only mourn the loss but pay tribute to one of our industry’s greatest, most respected and humble pioneers.

“Thirty years ago, when tourism as we know it today in the county was in its embryonic stage, dairy farmer Glyn Williams opened the gates of Folly Farm to visitors for the very first time.

“Back then, nobody could have predicted that his insight and vision would lead what has become known as Folly Farm Adventure Park and Zoo to be one of the most popular family attractions in the UK and that Pembrokeshire’s tourism industry would grow practically overnight because of him and his fellow pioneers in the industry.

“Tourism has grown exponentially around the major attractions and is a significant economic driver that everyone benefits from.

“So, without doubt, the appeal of Pembrokeshire to anyone who has developed a successful tourism business here over the past few decades is in no small part thanks to Glyn, who in 2014 was presented with the Outstanding Contribution to Tourism award by Pembrokeshire Tourism.

“He always supported and invested in Pembrokeshire’s tourism industry in so many different ways, including us as the county’s tourism trade organisation.

“His loss will be felt by everyone - not just in our organisation, but throughout the whole industry and none more so than by his family and the staff at Folly Farm.

“They are all in our thoughts at this very sad time."

Mr Williams’ funeral will be held at Parc Gwyn Crematorium on Friday March 6 at 3.15pm.

Following the service, the family welcomes everyone to join them at Folly Farm for refreshments.

Donations in lieu of flowers are welcome, made payable to the Paul Sartori Foundation, c/o E.C. Thomas & Son Funeral Directors, Zoar Chapel Funeral Home, Llanteg, Narberth, SA67 8QH.