LINO ARRIGO AZZOPARDI WAS NOT JUST A NEWS PRESS PHOTOGRAPHY COLLEAGUE, HE WAS MY MASTER MENTOR SINCE THE FIRST DAY I GOT ASSIGNED BY MY HEADQUARTERS TO HANDLE & COORDINATE PRESS MEDIA RELATIONS BETWEEN THE MALTESE MILITARY AND THE NUMEROUS LOCAL AND FOREIGN PRESS ORGANISATIONS, AT THE HEIGHT OF THE MIGRATION CRISIS WHICH HAD STARTED IN 2002.
Lino passed away overnight at age 77, always the staunch fighter till the end that he was, and the Maltese press corps this morning woke up to the shared sad and shocking news via the ubiquitous FACEBOOK social media platform.
As a news press photographer, Lino saw the majority of his full time working life with the Department of Information within the Prime Minister’s office between 1958 and 1983. The Institute of Maltese Journalists has described him in its tribute message, as an example of professionalism and as a man who was – and will remain – an inspiration to all journalists.
His photos captured some of Malta’s most historical moments and memorable events, like Malta’s Independence celebrations back in 1964 and our Island nation’s accession to the European Union way back in 2004.
On social media posts shared amongst friends and former work mates, one sentiment was common: “Everyone who knew him, will definitely carry fond memories”. Many of us, his colleagues, remember him as a jovial, but dedicated and professional photographer.
In March 14, 2001, whilst on an overseas assignment covering a state visit and forming part of a motorcade carrying then President Guido de Marco, he was seriously injured when a truck crashed into the convoy on its way towards Sofia.
Doctors gave him a 25% chance of survival, and he was put into an induced coma, spending six weeks in intensive care before eventually pulling through. He had been airlifted to St. Luke’s Hospital, where it was discovered that the impact had left him with multiple fractures from the neck to legs, broken ribs and, most seriously, a chest haemorrhage.
Though it nearly knocked the life out of him, Lino often privately conceded and shared with me that it was impossible to recover to 100% full shipshape condition after such an ordeal, and at his age it was doubly difficult. So it was always admirable seeing him at major press events, hauling photo gear kit and snapping away to transmit his shots to AP or EPA in his typical “mucho rapido” manner.
Like many of our mutual colleague friends, I will remember Lino for his great sense of humour, something he maintained until his last days. However, I will also remember him most for being there for me at all hours of the day or night, for putting me on the right track and giving endless golden feedback after covering an event or on life’s problem handling as I went through my own rough patches at work or at home. His steadfast and unwaning wife Jane would keep us both well taken care of in his Sta. Lucia studio at home, with her cute sandwiches and biscuits with plenty cups of warm tea.
Lino had notched many historical events in his life’s work portfolio: there was Prime Minister George Borg Olivier’s declaration of Independence, the appointment of Sir Anthony Mamo as the first Maltese president, and Prime Minister’s Dom Mintoff’s famous lighting of the torch at the Freedom Monument in Vittoriosa.
MediaToday’s managing editor Saviour Balzan today said in an online report “I recall the time when Eddie Fenech Adami visited Tony Blair before Malta’s accession to the EU, Arrigo was standing in front of Downing Street calling on the two protagonists to look at him and smile, as he snapped away. He was professional, helpful and always a jovial character.”
During Pope Ratzinger’s visit to Malta I vividly recall his stationing himself on the press media’s stand which was located at the back of Rabat’s town square, under the Health Centre’s balcony where I was filming from, and right opposite the church facade. He was flanked by Matthew Mirabelli and Ben Borg Cardona, respectively from The Times of Malta and Agencie France Press. We complained throughout that the stand was a wobbly affair and was really not giving decent pic snaps under the square’s low light conditions. Little did we realise then, that the only shrewd fellow amongst us working like a cool cucumber was Lino, seated on a camping stool and firing away like a Normandy Beach wartime machine-gunner. The rest of us mortals had been standing throughout, and causing most of the vibrations themselves on the stand . . . go figure!
The Malta Football Association (MFA) said that Lino had long been an accredited news press photographer with them, attending several soccer games over the years on the pitch line. They said he was a man of a few words who always helped everybody with his photography, not only the association.
After Lino had become a freelancer, working for overseas agencies as the Malta-based stringer for the Associated Press (AP) and the European Pressphoto Agency (EPA), he was also contracted as the official photographer for presidents Dr. Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, Prof. Guido de Marco and Dr. Eddie Fenech Adami.
Lino’s most recent major assignment was the CHOGM summit, held in Malta last year. He knackered himself to provide the usual prompt and quality service of news press photography turnaround, and that despite the help of a foreign novice sent by one overseas agency to help him out.
He hung his press card some time after that, finally deciding to call it a day; and he even phoned me up before he sent his letter of intent to Paul Azzopardi who was taking over as the new Director at the Dept. of Information. Lino was moved to tears I recall with Paul’s response letter, which was overwhelmingly brimming with heaped praise and thanks for the years of service Lino had given to Maltese news press photography’s chronicling of history and its varied events.
Lino’s funeral will be held on Thursday at 8:30am at the Santa Lucija Parish Church.
Ode to my Mentor
A person to help you get better and stronger,
to help you achieve your goal,
without them we are lost,
unable to progress,
as I came in
new to the game
lagging behind the rest,
but my mentor stood beside me
until i could catch up with the rest
My mentor was always there
even when I couldn’t keep up with the rest,
Mentors are like the light
illuminating the path to take,
without them we are in the dark
cold and alone,
mentors are our friends
sticking with us until the ends,
mentors are our salvation
leading to victory and success,
mentors are like the rays of the sun
shining down on us with knowledge and experience,
mentors are the people who watch over us
and wish only for our success,
The same is with me,
my mentor guided me and taught me how to play,
he showed me the ropes and tricks of the game,
so I may have fun with my friends,
without him i would be lost,
wandering in the dark.