Sir Anthony Mamo: First elected president of Malta

A scion of one of Malta's oldest families, Anthony Mamo played a vital part in Malta's post-war transition – first to independence from Britain in 1964 and then, a decade later, from a democratic monarchy that had retained the Queen as head of state to a republic within the Commonwealth, of which Mamo was the first elected president.

Through the offices he held, and thanks to his non-confrontational style and skill at promoting consensus, Mamo helped make sure these momentous changes proceeded as smoothly as humanly possible, in his tiny but politically fractious country.

From 1971 to 1974 he was the island's last (and only native Maltese) Governor-General, technically exercising authority on the Queen's behalf. As such, he presided over discussions between the rival and frequently feuding parties, the Nationalists and the Labour Party, when the latter was led by Dom Mintoff, Malta's dominant 20th-century politician, who was Prime Minister between 1971 and 1984.

Thanks to Mamo's quiet encouragement of the parties to find common ground, Malta's parliament approved the changeover to a republic, on 13 December 1974, by a handsome majority. Under the new constitution, which largely followed the Westminster model, the presidency was mainly ceremonial, with real power wielded by the prime minister. But Mamo's dignity and scrupulous sense of protocol made him an ideal figure to be head of state, a post he held until December 1976.

His true lifelong passion, however, was the law. After a year in private practice, he joined the civil service in 1936, serving on a commission that produced a revised edition of Malta's entire legal code. In 1942, at the height of the Second World War, he entered the Attorney General's office, first as a Crown Counsel, then as Deputy Attorney General, before becoming Attorney General, the government's chief legal officer in 1954.

Through the 1950s and 1960s, Mamo was the embodiment of the Maltese legal system. For 14 years he was Professor of Criminal Law at the Royal University of Malta, before becoming Chief Justice in 1957, then president of the Court of Appeals and finally president of the Constitutional Court in 1964.

Until the end of his life he retained an intense interest in the law, "enquiring about this or that judge or lawyer," according to Malta's current President and former prime minister Eddie Fenech Adami, a student of Mamo at the university. In an odd distinction which he also enjoyed, for the last few months of his life Mamo was the world's oldest living former head of state.

Rupert Cornwell

Anthony Joseph Mamo, lawyer and statesman: born Birkirkara, Malta 9 January 1909; Member, State Law Revision Commission 1936-42; Crown Counsel 1942-51; Professor of Criminal Law, Malta University 1943-57; Deputy Attorney General 1952-54, Attorney General 1955; OBE 1955; Chief Justice of Malta 1957-71; Kt 1960; Governor-General of Malta 1971-74; President of the Republic of Malta 1974-76; married 1939 Margaret Agius (one son, two daughters); died Mosta, Malta 1 May 2008.

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