Bobby Wood, one of Malta’s first tattooists – known by both those who love and hate the art – passed away suddenly on Sunday, literally leaving his mark on many.

Among his clients in over 49 years of tattooing bodies were those who wanted to immortalise in ink the memory of someone, and that is what his son Isaac, who followed in his footsteps, intends to do to pay tribute to his dad.

Choking in the tears, Isaac Wood, 31, said he had already thought of what he would do to commemorate his father. “I plan to have his portrait tattooed on the left side of my chest, as close to my heart as possible,” he sobbed.

Isaac and his wife Allison, his brother Kaysie, sister Natasha and her husband Joseph were by his side minutes after they received a call from the Woods’ mother in a panic at 11.30 a.m. They arrived before the ambulance did and Isaac tried to administer CPR as best he could.

But Bobby did not make it and succumbed to a heart attack – as the autopsy, carried out yesterday, established.

“He was at home with my mother, getting ready to pick up my son to take him for Sunday lunch. I was about to phone him to make arrangements but I got the call from my mum instead,” Isaac said.

His father was only 58 and in good health, he said, recalling that competitors had often tried to ruin his business and tarnish his reputation by spreading rumours that both of them were suffering from a spate of illnesses, including AIDS.

“He always fought back – down to the slightest thing. In fact, that time, he had printed and displayed medical certificates to prove the allegations unfounded,” Isaac recalled.

Bobby’s connection to tattoos dated back to when he was nine and had Woody Woodpecker imprinted on his body, the cartoon character being the child’s mascot due to his surname. His next tattoo was a cross on his chest when his own father, who hated tattoos, died at 36.

Soon after, he started tattooing others at the swings in Paola, where he was from, and it fast turned into his source of income at a time when it was still taboo.

Bobby, who spent his life tattooing others, was not covered in any enormous ones himself. He had planned to have the names of his six grandchildren tattooed but time was always an issue.

“I had planned for him to tattoo my son’s name on my hand when he was born three years ago but we never found the time,” Isaac said, pleased that his own dad did not object to them as most parents did.

“We could only tattoo each other on Sundays, public holidays and late in the evening, and it is for that reason that I only have the head of what was supposed to be a full-blown dragon...” and that his father would never complete now.

Two of Bobby’s four children work in his two parlours in Paceville and Buġibba. Keeping the business going, however, would be a tall order, Isaac felt, his father being a hard act to follow.

“He had a great name and when I used to work with him at the Paola parlour (his first ever), we would argue because every client wanted him to do the job. If we had three customers in a day, I would end up staring at him as he worked.

“He taught me everything – and I have been helping him out since I was nine,” he said, hoping to keep up his reputation.

Isaac remembers his dad as one of the first to “make tattoos big in Malta”. He fought for 13 years to get a permit for the first legal tattoo parlour and regularise what he did for a living.

Bobby had recently opened the Buġibba complex, which his son said was supposed to be the largest in Europe, fulfilling his ambitious plan to have the biggest studio.

The idea was to incorporate hairstyling, massage, nail treatments and an internet café – and now it was up to the boys to continue his dream.

The tattoo parlours were closed yesterday and Isaac was not sure when they would be reopened, both out of respect for Il-Bobby, as he was known, and because he did not yet feel fit to run the show in his shoes.

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