A tribute to Gozo’s oldest active bandsman – Charles Spiteri
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The demise of 86-year old Francis Bonello from Xaghra, pulled down the shutter of a musical era. Popularly known as Frenc is-Sansun, Francis was a veteran and enthusiast of everything that is Xaghra made. He was credited to be the oldest active bandman in Gozo at the turn of the century when, with deep reluctance, he had to lay down the trombone because of his old age.
Francis had been active at the Xaghra Victory band since its establishment in 1939. Previously he used to play the trombone with the Don Bosco orchestra at Xaghra under the direction of Ganni Vella. Following the merger of the orchestra and the Xaghra Boy Scouts band, a number of their respective members joined forces and the present day Victory band was set up. From then on Francis kept playing the trombone incessantly on all occasions whenever the Victory band was invited to play. However, his membership with the defunct Don Bosco orchestra kept him active with the orchestra group during the village festa during the solemn internal concelebrations up to his prime. One may proudly say that Francis was the last one who outlived his colleagues in actively playing in both groups.
Francis, a full time farmer by occupation, succeeded admirably in bringing up a family of nine children with his dedicated wife, Ganna. Together with her, Francis brought up the children in deep Christian faith as well as nurtured in them the love for anything that was good for the well being of the people at large. Testament to this is reflected in the active involvement of his sons, Saviour and Raymond, in the many tiers of organisation of the Xaghra parish as well as in philantropic entities. He always insisted that all his children participated in village activities and contributed their own personal energy in them.
Francis, possessing a typical good natured character, would always crack honest jokes making his listener reel in laughter. He would join in every activity organised by the Xaghra band and would always be found at the tail end of the band group blowing his trombone.
In 1989, together with Michael Refalo, Francis was paid homage for the unswerving and dedicated service he gave during his 50 long years of playing with the Xaghra band group.
Consequently it was fitting, that at his funeral cortege, Francis was carried on shoulders high from in front of the Xaghra band club to the parish church with the playing of funerary pieces by his Victory band colleagues who had gathered en masse to pay their last respects.
His coffin had his band cap resting on its lid and was closely followed by a child holding his trombone. His family members and the large number of mourners following the coffin were testament to Francis’ friendlimess and his sense of humour, making such a fine example of his life to his family and friends, as was very aptly described by the Xaghra parish priest, Mgr. Carmelo Refalo, during the concelebrated funerary mass.
May God grant him eternal peace.