Natalino Fenech writes:

Death is part of life, but it is always heart-breaking to see people you’ve known go. The news of the demise of Vincent Sammut, or Ċensu, as he was best known, came as a bolt out of the blue, even though he was 88. I have known Ċensu for almost half of his life. A gentle, caring giant, with no scientific training but a fountain of knowledge, and more importantly, with a bigger heart that those who know him can readily attest to. He was very good at giving, sharing, and expecting nothing in return.

I first met Ċensu in my initial years when I joined what was the Malta Ornithological Society. There was a lot in common between us. He was a former hunter and collector of stuffed birds, and anything related to natural history. I too hailed from families of hunters. Ċensu was fast trying to make up for his past by doing what he could to save birds. It was a time when bird protection was against the grain. The number of hunters was increasing rapidly as standards of living were rising and people had more time to spare and money to spend, and hunting and collecting provided many with what they saw as a viable pastime.

By today’s standards, Ċensu was a small-time contractor, yet he used his skills, knowledge and money to help in the establishing of Malta’s first Nature Reserve, Għadira. For a time, he was involved in helping with treatment of injured wild birds. Though he had no formal scientific training, he had an in-depth knowledge about fossils and found several interesting species, all of which were described by others, often without acknowledging it was Ċensu who had found them. He was interested in anything related to natural history, be it orchids, wild plants, shells, butterflies, and birds of course.

He often recounted to me what had spurred him to start collecting stuffed birds. He had just started hunting and the first bird he shot was a male Ferruginous Duck from Salina. It was a very rare duck at the time. “How I wish I missed it,” he used to tell me. “Maybe I would not have killed or bought so many birds for my collection after that.” But he more than made up for his venial sins of his early hunting years, when bird protection laws were still over the horizon.

Ċensu was an unassuming man. Soft-spoken, patient and kind, pushy when he needed to achieve, delivering, yet never seeking or taking credit. Few people can take credit for the use of such words about them, though many do these days. Ċensu was one of a kind. A husband to Ines, a family man, a father not just to his children Tony, Godfrey and Josette, but to so many through his advice, friendship and mentorship. He was a determined man who did things without boasting.

Fly high Ċens. I am sure that you were more than simply welcomed at the pearly gates. And keep looking after us from above. Till we meet again. A true gentleman gone at 88 but gone too soon.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us