“We may not pass through this world without leaving traces which may commend us to posterity” – thus said Napoleon who left enough traces for historians to guarantee him the posterity he yearned for. But this is not given to most men, whose story is in great part anonymous and possibly more fruitful in its own way.

The death of President de Marco, yesterday, is not that of an anonymous man. To him it was given to make a considerable impact on the life of his country as an accomplished lawyer of distinction, as a politician who served in government and in opposition as parliamentarian and minister for more than four decades, as President of the United Nations General Assembly and as our islands’ President in the first decade of the new millennium.

Guido, for that is how he was best known, was a political animal through and through without the dishonour of being beastly. But before he was a Nationalist he was a nationalist. His pride in being Maltese, his dedication to Malta’s interest throughout his career and his admiration for this country’s manifest virtues, culture and heritage did not blind him to its vices. Those characteristics informed his political objectives to build on what was good and dismantle, as best one could, what was bad.

He formed, with Ċensu Tabone and Eddie Fenech Adami, part of a formidable triumvirate after 1976. With them, his colleagues and Nationalist party supporters he was to experience the roughest, in its most literal sense, period in his political life. To overcome it required character of a high order, leadership, and a dogged determination to maintain the morale of party supporters. Guido displayed all three with a style that struck a chord with the grass roots of the party.

His ability to wow a crowd – and if sometimes he went over the top, what of it, if that was what was needed? – was equalled by a remarkable ability: to work at compromise with uncompromising opponents and to promote dialogue when it was easier to give up on communication. He would have dearly loved to become the party’s leader, but it was not to be. This did not stop him from making a massive contribution to the party in opposition, and more so in government where he carried out to great effect the portfolio of Justice and, later, of Foreign Affairs.

Perhaps the latter was his real love because it meant exercising powers of persuasion and dissuasion at an international level. His intellectual and cultural background helped enormously to attract him to his foreign counterparts in Europe and to give coherence to Malta’s case wherever this needed to be made. It allowed him to parade before them a tiny country with a rich past and a future as a full member of the European Union. In July 1990 he presented Malta’s application for membership, a proud moment in his life; as was, that same year, his election to be the President of the United Nations General Assembly. His appointment to be the President of Malta was a foregone conclusion.

It is not given to many to lead such a full life. Guido de Marco gave the impression – to the very end – that he enjoyed every minute of it, even if he could have done without its darkest moments. It was typical of the man that his years-old dialysis treatment for a renal condition failed to interrupt his zest for life or his commitment to duty. His death is a loss for Malta and a greater one for his wife and family on whom he doted; his life a fine example of courage, fortitude and dedication.

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