On Saturday 15 August the main hall of the Maltese Community Centre in Parkville was the venue for the funeral service of prominent Maltese community leader, Emmanuel ‘Laurie’ Spiteri, who passed away on 8 August, aged 91.
A large number of community members filled the hall to join Laurie’s four children, Sydney, Leslie, Rowland and Desiree and their families to pay their last respects and farewell a dearly loved father, grandfather and great-grandfather and a well-respected community leader.
Among the mourners were the Consul General of Malta in Victoria, Mr Victor Grech, MCCV President Mr Victor Borg and members of the MCCV Executive, and MCCV-affiliated Associations’ presidents and committee members. Rev Dr Victor Shields mssp led the funeral mass, which was concelebrated with Fr Emmanuel Adami mssp.
After the reciting of the Rosary, MCCV President Victor Borg was invited to give the eulogy. Having welcomed those present to the Maltese Centre, Mr Borg observed how fitting the venue was for the funeral of a man who had given great leadership for the community. Laurie had worked tirelessly and raised funds for the building of the Centre, which had become a second home for him, constantly calling around for socialising and having the odd meal and helping generally in community activities.
Mr Borg said that he had met Laurie when he first joined the MCCV decades ago and even then he had shown signs of leadership and his wisdom and words of advice were always welcomed.
Laurie Spiteri was born in Floriana in 1924, the son of Benedetto and Maria. When he was 4 years old, his family moved to Hamrun. Laurie married Ivy Scicluna in 1948 and two years later they migrated to Melbourne, Australia with their first born child, Sydney, just under a year old. At the time of arrival, Ivy was expecting their second child, Leslie, who was born in 1950. They had another two children, Rowland born in 1951 and Desiree born four years later. Laurie was blessed with nine grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren to whom he was really close.
Mr Borg said that the Spiteri family was a very closely knit family, which is typical of Maltese families. Laurie and Ivy came to Australia to give their children a better future and to have opportunities which possibly they may not have had at all in Malta, particularly in those difficult times when they migrated.
Mr Borg said that in Malta Laurie was employed as a marine engineer and on arrival in Melbourne he was offered a job immediately at GMH at Fisherman’s Bend. He was there for a short time. In 1955 he joined the Australian airlines, TAA, and three years later he obtained qualifications as an aircraft engineer. He retired in 1987, aged 63. He had lost his wife Ivy in 1983.
Mr Borg said that as a young man Laurie joined the Scout Movement in Malta. In 1940 he presented himself to the forces in Malta and joined Malta’s Own Regiment. He had not told his parents and simply said to them that he had joined as a volunteer. One of his jobs was guard duty, guarding the shores to make sure no-one came ashore unannounced. While on guard duty one day, he noticed a pile of soaked civilian clothing on a beach which he immediately reported to the authorities. Within days a Maltese citizen, who had been living in Sicily, was arrested as he had apparently come ashore with wireless equipment to spy for the enemy.
Mr Borg said that in 1958 Laurie was a founding member of the Maltese Ex Services Association of Victoria, in which he held the position of Secretary for many years and President for the past 15 years.
As the 50th Anniversary of the Award of the George Cross was approaching, Laurie was a member of a committee formed by members of the Association to establish the monument located just outside the building of the Maltese Centre in recognition of the sacrifice of so many Maltese people who perished during the war years. On that committee he held the positions of Secretary and Functions Organiser, with Nicholas Chircop as President, Frank Bugeja as PRO and Joe Montebello as Project Manager.
Laurie was very pleased with their achievements. On an annual basis he was actively involved in making arrangements for the George Cross Award commemoration mass held in St Paul’s Chapel followed by a ceremony of the laying of wreaths at the monument.
Mr Borg said that Laurie was not one to let issues go. The last two issues that Laurie took up related to the annual ANZAC Day march in which Maltese veterans participate. Through the Association’s Secretary, Joe Sammut, Laurie wrote to the Marshall who was in charge of the march to request that the Maltese contingent be placed in a more prominent place towards the front of the march. He was successful in that venture because on the last ANZAC Day march the Maltese contingent was way up the front.
Mr Borg said that the other issue that Laurie had recently taken up related to the Australia Hall in Malta which was erected in the war years for entertainment use by members of the Australian forces. Laurie took it upon himself to contact the Maltese and Australian authorities to see whether they would have it restored and retain its ownership.
Laurie loved his country of birth and was well up with the history of Malta, particularly the wartime years. However, he also had a great love for his country of adoption. He often spoke about the opportunities which Australia had given him and his family and the way everyone had settled.
Mr Borg said that Laurie had a great community commitment, taking part in all MCCV activities. He played a big part in the raising of funds for the construction of the Maltese Centre in Parkville. Laurie was exemplary in his attendance at the monthly Council meetings, In fact, at these meetings he would take a seat on the front row and fully participate. There were not many occasions that Laurie did not list a matter down for discussion under General Business.
Mr Borg said that Laurie was a well-respected member of the community. He would be the first to help in case of need and many people were referred to him for assistance, particularly for obtaining employment, issues relating to their war service and pension entitlements.
Mr Borg said that everyone admired Laurie for his great spirit. It was hard to believe that a man of 91 years could really maintain an independent life in the way that he did, no doubt greatly assisted by his daughter Desiree. In any event, he would drive to the Centre for the monthly Council meetings and drive home afterwards pretty late in the night. He felt that he had a commitment and was determined that he would carry it out.
Mr Borg said that we should feel honoured that Laurie would have chosen to have his funeral service at the Centre. We are all better for having known Laurie. He was a man with a great, warm personality, a man who drew others to him and a man who was relied upon heavily not just by the community generally, but also by the individuals who sought his assistance.
Mr Borg said that it is often said that life in unpredictable, and how true that is. Only a fortnight earlier Laurie visited him in hospital with great words of encouragement telling him that he will soon get back to good health and it was great having a conversation with him. Little did either of them know that, in effect, they were saying farewell.
Laurie was a decent, loving and religious man who followed his religion faithfully and we are certain that he is now reaping his rewards, said Mr Borg.
Mr Borg thanked Laurie for all he did for the community. He was what one would describe “a giver”. He never wanted anything and he gave all that he had in the interested of all that needed it.
Mr Borg concluded the eulogy with a few words in Maltese “as otherwise, Laurie would never forgive him for not doing so,” he said. He thanked Laurie for all had had done for everyone and wished him rest in peace.
Mr Spiteri’s children and grandchildren then gave their personal tributes to their father and grandfather, fondly remembering him in wonderful memories that they each cherish about him.
After the mass, the funeral cortège proceeded to Fawkner Cemetery where a graveside service was led by Fr Shields.
Light refreshments were served at the Maltese Community Centre hall after the burial.
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