I shall miss Mario Tabone. He was a fine gentleman of great culture. He would talk extensively on some favourite topic and, a second later, relish a good joke. His head was somewhere up there, but his feet were always secured to the ground.

Our frequent phone calls lasted more than an hour. We shared our latest readings, cracked jokes and bared our thoughts, certainties, doubts and ignorance. We spoke with great respect and honesty about our incompetence on specific issues. Real knowledge is awareness of the extent of our ignorance.

All knowledge proceeds from a question which leads to a search. Mario challenged answers because he believed all knowledge is fathomless, which inspired further inspection and introspection.

There were only a few topics which did not attract him. His inquisitive mind searched assiduously. Sciences, philosophy, literature (especially Russian classics, which he knew back to front), art, history, politics, geography, sociology, psychology and, of course, medicine, especially ophthalmology. These and several others tickled his imagination and curiosity and urged him to read voraciously. His vast library is a living testament to an exceptional mind.

His laughter was infectious, just as his appreciation was incisive. He loved listening to a good joke and was always quick on the draw to relate one of his stories. Typically, he would start laughing at its conclusion and would sometimes drown the punchline in his giggle.

The last time we spoke, I introduced Mario to Peter Burke’s books on the history of technology, whilst he urged me to read the life of Giorgio Lapira. He had just delivered a talk about this great modern Italian Christian politician. “There were barely half a dozen listening to me,” he told me with his typical smile, “but I enjoyed every second of it”.

The breadth and depth of his encyclopaedic knowledge were refreshing, never intimidating, because his humble soul enjoyed knowledge as a personal, joyful experience and he never injected it forcefully into the veins of others.

His knowledge of ophthalmology was well known, and many patients will miss his cordial service, which he offered with much love. I recall taking my four-year-old grandson, Luke, for an eye check-up recently. He treated him with such warmth and attention that my grandson later asked me when we would revisit him. That was Mario. A man of charm with all and sundry.

His knowledge of ophthalmology was well known, and many patients will miss his cordial service, which he offered with much love

When I spoke to him recently, he admitted he missed his darling wife, Josephine, who died not long ago: “My children Simone, Jean-Paul and Mark never fail to prop up my morale and share their company with me, but in the darkness of the night, I feel so alone.” But he was never really alone.

He was blessed with great faith. I once discussed with him whether religious belief is a purely personal experience or whether it is essentially communal. Would you still believe in Christ if you were the only one in the world who does so? He lovingly referred me to his hero Fyodor Dostoyevsky (The Brothers Karamazov):

“Believe to the end, even if all men went astray and you were left the only one faithful; bring your offering even then and praise God in your loneliness.”

Mario had a profound love for Christ. Again quoting Dostoyevsky, he once referred me to the haunting words: “If someone proved to me that Christ is outside the truth and that in reality, the truth was outside of Christ, then I should prefer to remain with Christ rather than with the truth.”

My dear friend, Mario, Christ knows and appreciates your profound faith. He is hugging you closely and will treat you to heaven’s library, where you can finally understand and appreciate how we really know so little or nothing at all.

Rest in peace, dear friend.

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