Anthony Manduca pays tribute to some of the prominent Maltese people who died in 2021.
Anthony D’Amato, co-owner of the world’s ‘oldest’ record store, died on January 3, aged 75.
D’Amato dedicated over 60 years of his life to ensuring people’s musical tastes were catered for. His D’Amato Records was dubbed the world’s oldest record store and dates back to 1885. The international media called his business the “holy grail of record shops”.
John Aquilina, co-founder of Golden Harvest, died on January 14.
Aquilina was a pillar of the Golden Harvest company which he co-founded and expanded to become a major player in the Maltese bread industry.
Joseph Micallef Stafrace, former Labour minister who faced interdiction, died on January 29, aged 87.
Micallef Stafrace was one of the first Labour politicians to face Archbishop Michael Gonzi’s interdiction in the 1960s. A member of the Labour Party’s executive and editor of the Labour newspaper Is-Sebħ, Micallef Stafrace was only allowed to get married in the sacristy. In 1959, Micallef Stafrace was sentenced to four days’ in jail for the vilification of Governor Robert Laycock in a cartoon in Is-Sebħ. He was appointed minister for industry, agriculture and tourism by Dom Mintoff when Labour won the 1971 election but resigned a few months later. A moderate, it is believed Micallef Stafrace was not comfortable with Mintoff’s radical brand of socialism or his divisive policies. He also served as chairman of the Broadcasting Authority.
Cynthia Turner, celebrated pianist, died on February 1, aged 88.
Turner was one of Malta’s best known pianists and performed for Queen Elizabeth at the Manoel Theatre in 1967. She performed on a number of stages and on television in Malta, Italy, France, Germany and Egypt. She was a Chevalier dans L’Order des Palmes Académiques and an associate of the Royal Academy of Muscic. In 2004, she was made a member of the National Order of Merit.
John Borg Manduca, artist, died on February 12, aged 86.
Borg Manduca, best known for his dreamy seascape canvases, described himself as a “weekend artist” before retiring as a major in the AFM. His work was also exhibited in London and Edinburgh.
Mgr Ġwann Azzopardi, renowned scholar, died on February 19, aged 84.
Mgr Azzopardi served as curator of the Mdina Cathedral Museum and the Wignacourt Museum in Rabat. He was a brilliant scholar and wrote extrensively on Maltese historiography and artistic heritage. He was honorary canon of St Paul’s Basilica in Rabat. The authors of Melitensium Amor, a book published in his honour, noted that his “outstanding discoveries” on Caravaggio, the Inquisition, sacred music and Pauline studies are quoted by international scholars and academics.
Mark Micallef, former ambassador, died on February 10, aged 70.
Micallef was Malta’s Ambassador to the US from 1996 to 1998, Ambassador to Spain from 2013 to 2018 and Ambassador to Portugal from 2018 to 2020. A lawyer by profession, he served on the council of Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti and was an authority on art and Maltese heritage. He was best known for his book The Politics of Art.
Vince Farrugia, former director general of the GRTU, died on February 25, aged 77.
Farrugia was a long-serving director of the GRTU business lobby, which he transformed into an organisation of national importance. A dynamic personality, he had a special way of understanding the needs of small businesses. An economist, he also served as chairman of the tourist organisation and was a board member of the Malta Development Corporation. In 2008, he was given the National Order of Merit. He had a short and unsuccessful stint in politics when he contested the 2009 MEP elections on the PN’s ticket.
Tony Bezzina, long-serving president of Hibernians FC, died on March 15, aged 72.
Bezzina was a huge figure in Maltese football and the longest-serving president in the BOV Premier League, having led Hibernians FC for 43 years. He enjoyed much success in Maltese football, winning all major honours. He was awarded the Midalja għall-Qadi tar-Repubblika in 2019.
Godfrey Grima, journalist turned advertising man, died on March 29, aged 79.
Grima was a veteran journalist and political commentator who created one of Malta’s largest advertising agencies. He was a foreign correspondent for the Financial Times in the 1960s and continued to contribute to the newspaper until 2010. In 1986 he founded the public relations and advertising firm Associated News Group. He was awarded Il-Midalja għall-Qadi tar-Repubblika in 2017.
Carol Calleja, restaurateur and Esmeralda survivor, died on April 6, aged 80.
Calleja, a pioneering restaurateur and survivor of the sinking of his yacht Esmeralda, died 31 years after he was rescued from a dinghy at sea. He was known for his chain of innovative eateries, dating back to the 1970s, as well as for the Sliema multi-storey car park. He also owned a number of high-end restaurants.
Felix Agius, former GWU and Labour newspaper editor, died on May 20, aged 73.
Agius edited the GWU daily l-orizzont before assuming the editorship of the Labour Party Sunday newspaper KullĦadd. A dedicated left-winger, he consistently promoted the socialist ideals he strongly believed in.
Joseph R. Darmanin, former president of the Chamber of Commerce, died on May 23, aged 79.
Darmanin was president of the Chamber of Commerce from 1996 to1997. He founded the chamber’s EU Steering Committee which prepared businesses for EU membership and was consul general for Austria and general sales agent for Austrian Airlines for many years. In 2002, he was awarded the Grand Decoration of Honour for services to Austria. He was also a director of Malta International Airport and Lombard Bank.
Fr Ġwann Xerri, missionary priest in Brazil and champion of the poor, died on May 31, aged 74.
Fr Xerri, a 74-year-old Dominican priest, spent over three decades living and working among the poor in Brazil. Throughout his life he was closely linked to social justice movements where he championed the poor, stood up for equality and fought against oppression. Fr Xerri’s fight for justice reflected his belief in the theology of liberation.
Edward de Bono, of lateral thinking global fame, died on June 9, aged 88.
De Bono, who held faculty appointments at Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard universities and served as a professor at many others, was a global authority on creative thinking. A doctor and psychologist by training, he created a term called ‘lateral thinking’, which now forms part of the Oxford English Dictionary. De Bono’s more than 85 books were translated into 46 languages and his Six Thinking Hats method was adopted by many global corporations. He often urged schools to equip children to think creatively, rather than teaching them to absorb information and repeat it.
Jon Lukas, singer, died on June 11 aged 72
Lukas was the first Maltese artist to break into the UK's Top 40 charts with the hit single Can't Afford to Lose. The UK-based artist, known on stage as Woodenman, released the hit single composed by Gary Benson, in 1970, to international success. Born Frank Agius in Paola, he formed the band Woodenman in 1988 and released the album Peoplesounds in 1992. After disbanding, he took the band’s moniker and incorporated into his own, going as Jon Lukas Woodenman.
Mgr Walter Ebejer, Bishop in Brazil, died on June 12, aged 91.
Mgr Ebejer was appointed the first bishop of União da Vitória in Brazil by Pope VI in 1976. Prior to that, he did pastoral and missionary work in the country for nearly 20 years. He was also a lecturer at the Pontifical Catholic University of Parana and at the Studium Theologicum Catholic University.
Alfred Calamatta, founder of Calamatta Cuschieri Investment Services, died on July 7, aged 83.
Calamatta was a pioneer in the Maltese financial services sector and after working in banking, established A. Calamatta & Partners in 1971 – even prior to the regularisation of the Maltese financial market. In 1992, he joined in a partnership to form Calamatta Cuschieri & Co. Ltd, and the company assisted in establishing the Malta Stock Exchange.
Joe Grech, former world amateur billiards champion, died on August 21, aged 66.
Grech won many local and international billiards honours, including the Maltese National Snooker Champion x6, World Billiards Champion, European Men’s Team Champion and European Over 40s Mens Team Champion. He was considered one of the best snooker and billiards player Malta has ever seen.
Guido Lanfranco, naturalist, died on September 8, aged 90.
Lanfranco was a renowned scholar and naturalist who wrote extensively about the flora and fauna of the Maltese islands. He served as president of the Malta Geographical Society and the Malta Ornithological Society. He was awarded the Midalja għall-Qadi tar-Repubblika in 1996.
Frederick Fenech, former dean of medicine, died on October 10 aged 87.
Fenech qualified as a doctor at the age of 21 and was appointed senior physician and professor of medicine in 1974, a post he held until 1977, when he left Malta during the doctors’ strike to become the first medical professor at Kuwait University. He returned in 1987 and became dean of the faculty of medicine. He served as president of the Malta Red Cross Society and director of the International Institute on Ageing. He was a member of the National Order of Merit and a magisterial knight of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
Joseph Debono, actor, comedian and writer, died on October 27, aged 63.
Debono was best known for his role as ‘James Bondin’ on Xarabank and soon became a popular and much-loved household name. He was a regular in theatres and TV in the 1980s and 1990s, featuring in shows such as Aħn’aħna jew maħniex. Although he was diagnosed with ALS in early 2020, he went on to wrap up his novel Iz-Ziju Manwel and then dedicated his time during the pandemic to read to senior citizens.
Lino Farrugia Sacco, judge, died on October 31, aged 72.
Farrugia Sacco was appointed a judge in 1997 and before that served as a magistrate for 16 years. In 2013, he was twice recommended for impeachment by the Commission for the Administration of Justice on accusations of breaching the judiciary’s code of ethics. He also served as president of the Malta Tennis Federation and chairman of the Lands Authority.
Ray Cassar Torreggiani, athletics icon, died on November 15, aged 87.
Olympic athlete Cassar Torregiani was was a top sprinter in the 1950s, having run the 100 yards in 9.8 seconds, as well as being a prolific long and high jumper. He qualified as Senior British Amateur Athletics Board coach from Loughborough, the UK centre of excellence for athletics, and introduced new coaching skills in Malta.
Sandro Spiteri, former San Anton School headmaster, died on November 29, aged 56.
Spiteri was appointed head of San Anton School in 2020, after having taught there almost two decades earlier. He led national programmes within the Foundation for Educational Services to expand family literacy, founded the Malta Writing Programme and was the main author of the national literacy strategy. Spiteri played a leading role in the 1980s campaign to defend Church schools. He was also a columnist with The Sunday Times of Malta between 2016 and 2020, where he wrote extensively on politics or education.
Fra’ Matthew Festing, former Grand Master of the Order of St John, died on November 12, aged 71.
Fra’ Matthew Festing was the 79th Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of Malta from 2008 up to his resignation in 2017. He was the third English person to hold the title in the Order’s history. A descendant of Sir Adrian Fortescue, a Knight of Malta who was martyred in 1539, Fra’ Festing led humanitarian aid missions to Kosovo, Serbia and Croatia. He was buried in the crypt of St John’s Co-Cathedral, the first time in hundreds of years that a Grand Master was buried there.
Mary Collinson, Maltese-British model and actress, died on November 23, aged 69.
Sliema-born Coll-inson moved to London in 1969 where she and her late sister Madelaine soon made Playboy history when, aged 18, they became the first set of twins chosen as the magazine’s Playmate of the Month. After that, Collinson followed a career in modelling and appearances in a number of films. She is best known for her role, together with her sister, in the horror film Twins of Evil, alongside film star Peter Cushing.
Marie Christiane Ramsay Scicluna Pergola, Baroness of Tabria, died on November 26, aged 73.
Baroness Scicluna spearheaded the renovation and transformation of Palazzo Parisio in Naxxar, a 19th-century palace and gardens that she turned into an award-winning restaurant and hosting venue that also served as a tourist attraction. Scicluna assumed the title of Baroness of Tabria following the death of her mother Marie Corinne Ramsay, the granddaughter of the Marquis Joseph Scicluna.
Saviour Borg, former ambassador, died on December 12, aged 76.
Borg had a long and distinguished career in the foreign service which he joined in 1977. He served in various ambassadorial roles, including ambassador to the UN, China, Japan, two Koreas, UN agencies and various international organisations. He was the first dire-ctor of the Multilateral Affairs Department at the foreign ministry and was an adviser to foreign ministers of various governments.
Michael Mallia, former diplomat and business leader, died on December 13, aged 77.
As a young diplomat, Mallia was involved in the negotiations between Malta and the EEC when the two sides signed an association agreement in 1970. In the early 1970s, he joined the private sector and became managing director of Multigas, which he set up, and a board member of several companies, including Air Malta and the Debono Group. He was also a former president of the Employers’ Association and a former chairman of PBS. In the turbulent 1980s, he was actively involved in the defence of Church schools.
Enzo Gusman, popular singer and broadcaster, died on December 18, aged 74.
Gusman, born Laurence Gusman, won his first singing competition aged 17 in Sicily. He sang romantic ballads, snappy pop songs and even opera and won over 20 international song festivals. He also took part in local dramas and musicals. His radio show Bejn il-Ħbieb on Calypso Radio had a strong following. Gusman had a passion for Maltese and he always encouraged his fellow broadcasters to uphold high standards of the spoken language. In 2008, he was awarded the Midalja għall-Qadi tar-Repubblika.
Albert Fenech, leading cardiologist and former MP, died December 28, aged 70.
Fenech co-founded the cardiology department within local public healthcare in 1995 along with fellow cardiologist Alex Manche and carried out the very first operation at Mater Dei Hospital - an angiogram - in 2007.
He continued to be one of Mater Dei Hospital’s top cardiologists until 2015. The charismatic and much-loved physician who spent more than two decades overseas also had a brief foray in politics as a Nationalist Party MP between 2013 and 2016.