Lives Remembered: Mario Subacchi

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The Independent Online

My father Mario Subacchi, who died on 26 May, was a prominent Catholic and well-loved member of the Italian community in Britain for over 60 years. Born in Bardi in the province of Parma, northern Italy, on 16 May 1923, he was the second son of the local blacksmith Carlino Subacchi and his wife Teresa Pelizza. His elder brother, Don Italo Subacchi, was a young cleric murdered by the Nazis at Sidolo in July 1944. Together with two other priests, Don Giuseppe Beotti and Don Francesco Delnevo, Don Italo had the misfortune to encounter an SS Unit of the retreating German army in the small village of Sidolo, near Bardi, Parma. Falsely accused of aiding the partisans and hiding Allied escapees, they were executed by a Nazi firing squad outside the parish church. His other three brothers Pierino, Carlo and Giorgio, were all well known in the region and all predeceased him.

Mario was educated at a Church boarding school at Cremona in the 1930s after both parents died of natural causes before he was seven. Here he learned the art of intricate woodcarving that was to play such an important part in his life. On leaving school, and after lying about his age, he enlisted in the crack 8th Bersaglieri regiment of the Italian Army and was wounded in action in North Africa during the Second World War, in which he was present at the battles of Tobruk and El Alamein. After hostilities ceased he was released from captivity and served with the British Pioneer Corps in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt before returning to Bardi. Finding the area ravaged by the after-effects of war he eventually headed for Wales, settling in Aberystwyth, where he had family connections and where he was to remain for the rest of his life.

It was as a restaurateur in his father-in-law Giuseppe (Joe) Chiappa's Restaurant in Eastgate in the town centre that he was best known for over 40 years. A gregarious man, a great raconteur and a lover of languages, especially Italian and Welsh, he was a highly popular businessman and an inspirational Catholic personality in Wales. On a visit to Aberystwyth a few years ago he was introduced to the Italian Ambassador, who was amazed at the quality of his spoken Italian given the length of time he had lived in Wales.

In 1954 he married Giovanna Maria (Joan) Chiappa, the daughter of Giuseppe and Giustina Maria Chiappa, both of Scopolo, Parma. Together with Joan, who was honoured by Pope Benedict with the "Bene Merenti" three years ago for 60 years of service as a church organist, Mario was a strong supporter of the Catholic Church in Wales and beyond. This was especially so in the Aberystwyth parish of St Winefride's and Our Lady of All Angels, and in his later years he strove passionately, together with others, to fight what he regarded as misguided plans to sell the site and relocate the church outside the town boundaries.

Following retirement 24 years ago he returned to the art of woodcarving that he had been forced to put aside during a busy career. He was a talented engraver and sculptor in wood, with an ability to carve intricately and with great sensitivity. He produced a prodigious output, ranging from Welsh dragons, to horses, religious imagery, chess sets, jewellery boxes and elaborate picture frames, all to widespread acclaim. He also gave his time freely teaching woodcarving skills at a local centre to those who had suffered from physical or mental stress. On his retirement from this voluntary work due to old age he was appointed "Sculptor Emeritus" by a grateful health authority.

His Requiem Mass and funeralin Aberystwyth on 3 June attracted hundreds of mourners from all sectors of society; he is survived by hiswife, his sons, myself and Paul,his daughters Anna, Silvia and Sandra as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.