Richard A. Matrenza, St Paul’s Bay, writes:

On the first day of December 1960, I had started the second lap of my career.  I had been chosen to fill the position of a full-time secretary of the Government Section of the General Workers’ Union.

It was at the time that I came to know Joe Borg Bonello.  JBB, as he was pleasantly referred to in a comradely way, at the then relatively new headquarters of the union in Mayfair House down in Old Bakery Street in Valetta, was the assistant or part-time secretary of the section.  His full-time employment was as a senior nurse in the employ of the Medical and Health Department and serving at Mount Carmel Hospital in Attard.

Between us there developed instantly a true and strong mutual respect, a veritable friendship that blossomed and grew healthier and healthier over a span of more than 60 years.

Joe was a trade unionist of substance.  He was a dedicated and active member of the Maltese Labour Movement.  His heart and mind were embedded in the true interests of the workers he represented. 

He was steadfast, even in the turbulent times and days of colonial Malta of the 1960s, when he may have been perceived by some as not being truly loyal to the political arm of the movement because of his religious convictions.

Joe never used or abused his union position during his tenure of office for any personal advancement or gratification by virtue of his official capacity.

The more reason why and how our friendship solidified. And flourished over many decades.

He may be labelled ‘old guard’.  The truth is that he was a constant guardian and upholder of workers’ rights, a stalwart defender for the advancement of members under his keep, with an unfaltering belief and action in the principles for what the union had been born and established in 1943 when he was a young albeit active member.

With advancing age and a widower, although his children never abandoned him, Joe decided to move out of his lonely modest apartment in Old Mint Street in Valletta to go in a home for the elderly where I used to go and see him in between lengthy teleconversations full of memories and actualities.

My last telephone exchange was on the Friday, two days before his 99th birthday was due.  On Sunday, November 8, I called to wish him happy birthday. I learned that he had been hospitalised.

He passed away in the early hours of Tuesday, November 10.

Joe was an upright man.  He was never uncomfortable with the truth.

I can vouch for him unreservedly.

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