Have a beer for us up there, Ċukaj

Until we meet again for a heated discussion on the rainbow-painted zebra crossing in Floriana, farewell Ivan Fenech

Ivan Fenech
Ivan Fenech

I write this piece while I listen to Eva Cassidy’s Over the Rainbow. It was the last Facebook post Ivan Fenech, 55, put up at the end of May.

Just 12 days later, he passed suddenly.

I got to know Ivan more closely when I worked for Times of Malta. The lasting image of him is coming into work with a can of Skol beer in his bag.

He would open it in the evening, savouring it while editing the last stories to come in and generally putting the paper to bed.

He fashioned himself as the bulwark of conservativism and the traditional family, which put us on opposite sides of the ideological divide. We had multiple discussions on contentious opinion pieces or editorials he would have penned.

But Ivan was also the person who could engage naturally and sympathetically with the ex-prisoner who would regularly pass by the TOM building in Valletta asking for some change.

Ivan would be standing there in the doorway, puffing on his pipe. You could smell his presence outside from a corner away.

But there he would be oscillating between silence and talking in his quiet voice with anyone who happens to be there.

Known as iċ-Ċukaj for his first television role in the 1987 satirical series Aħn’aħna jew m’aħniex, I crossed lines with Ivan in later years when he occupied the role of public relations officer at the Planning Authority. He was not your typical PRO. I remember him being very candid when answering questions from journalists.

Years later, our paths crossed at TOM. His half smile; his cheeky wit; his quiet anger; his sparkly eyes; his critical mind; his dry humour; his beer can… Ivan represented conservative certainty and artistic flurry.

Ivan collapsed at work and was rushed to hospital on Tuesday evening, only to pass on 24 hours later. The sudden departure shocked his colleagues and when I received the news this morning of what happened, I got flashbacks from 2005 when another colleague of mine at MaltaToday, Julian Manduca, passed away.

Julian’s departure was also sudden and unexpected. An hour earlier, we had been at work together, only to be then informed through a phone call from a fellow journalist that Julian had died suddenly at home.

The suddenness of death is hard to swallow. I spent a whole year unable to delete Julian’s mobile phone number from my phone directory.

When I received the call this evening from a former colleague at TOM that Ivan was no longer with us, memories of Julian came rushing back.

Death is the one eventuality that humanity can never comprehend.

No words can console Ivan’s wife and daughter. What we, Ivan’s colleagues, ex-colleagues and friends are feeling, pales into insignificance next to the suffering of his dearest.

Until we meet again for a heated discussion on the rainbow-painted zebra crossing in Floriana, farewell Ċukaj, and have a beer for us from up there.

On behalf of the MaltaToday newsroom, I extend our deepest sympathies to his family.

Ivan first joined Times of Malta in the 1980s, working as a journalist. He left the company in 1997 to join the Planning Authority and subsequently emigrated to Germany, where he lived for several years. He returned to Malta in 2013 and rejoined the Times of Malta as an assistant editor. He leaves to mourn him his wife Katrin and daughter Kyra.

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