Helen Caruana Galizia writes;
Joan was known to many people and some found her complex character difficult to disentangle. I pay tribute to her as one of the most courageous persons I have ever known: intelligent, mischievous, inspiring and refreshingly unconventional in the midst of a conventional society. Her loss is hard to bear for those of us who live abroad for she was the first port of call on arrival and would organise special reunions for returning school friends.
Second cousins twice over, through the Galizias and the Asphars, we played as tiny children in our parents’ gardens in Sliema. During our schooldays, when we learned our Shakespeare fairly thoroughly, we picked up a line from As You Like It where two cousins addressed each other as “my coz” or “my blood” and forever after that is how we continued to sign our letters to each other. We took turns to run away from school (a serious crime) to buy aniseed balls for the rest of our classes, charging a penny per dozen as commission, since we were taking such risks on their behalf.
Joan was Sportswoman of the Year in 1964 and, in 1998, she was awarded the Midalja għal Qadi tar-Repubblika – Medal for Services to the Republic for her promotion of sport in Malta, particularly women’s sport. Few people know she worked with lepers for a number of years and was awarded an honour for her contribution from the Order of St Lazarus.
Her escapades and skill in every kind of breathtaking and risky sport are well known, not least that parachute jump to raise money for charity as well as her numerous serious accidents and resulting scars. On one occasion she disappeared from school on her bicycle, crashed and was returned on a stretcher, then transported to the Blue Sisters Hospital next door. Another injury resulted from an encounter with rusty barbed wire at the White Tower, leading to symptoms of lock jaw: As she was coming through in the operating theatre she heard a nurse say: “This one won’t see the sun tomorrow morning”, at which Joan leapt off the table determined to prove the prophecy wrong.
You could call Joan a remnant of the British Empire. She continued to inhabit the almost vanished world of our colonisers with her many English friends, the display of Union Jacks and other English mementos, among the dozens of cups she had been awarded.
There were other activities too – Joan and her charming mother appeared in many film crowd scenes. Most recently she drove a motorised rickshaw – her “tuc-tuc”.
Joan has been described with a rush of superlatives and, though she was charismatic in the true meaning of an over-used word, she never sought to have a following.
Children loved her youthfulness and fun. Every summer Joan would be found on Fr Hili’s boat, swimming in deep sea off otherwise inaccessible coasts. In later years she would sit quietly below deck enjoying the sea and sun surrounded by her friends.
Joan coped in an exemplary fashion with all kinds of mishaps; it was in her nature to give to people, yet she herself never expected much and was always so thankful for any small thing done for her. It was the same at Charella when her first thought was always to help her equally frail companions, disregarding her own pain and discomfort.
Before she moved into residential accommodation, Joan had to spend much time alone, so she occupied herself by creating things out of discarded objects with her ingenious recycling imagination. There were no complaints in those solitary days – she would never have said she was lonely. Despite her painful illness she remained a sharp Scrabble opponent. Recently, she would be seen sitting on the pavement outside Charella, smoking and taking in the supposedly fresh, fume-filled air, a smile always on her face and always ready to laugh even if what you said wasn’t particularly funny.
Joan displayed outstanding love and altruism along with her mischief and devilish good humour. Even as I close this obituary, Joan’s vital elusive spirit remains hard to capture.
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