Guido Lanfranco, whose love of Malta’s nature, language and folklore inspired thousands, dies at 90

Revered scholar of natural history and folklore was loved by his colleagues and the wider public as one of Malta’s first modern scientific and cultural communicators

Guido Lanfranco, 1930-2021
Guido Lanfranco, 1930-2021

Guido Lanfranco, the revered Maltese naturalist and folkorist, has passed away at the age of 90.

Born in Sliema on 18 October 1930, Lanfranco was a teacher in various schools and a member of many educational boards and committees as well as local and foreign scientific societies. He was the first president of the Natural History Society of Malta, the Din L-Art Ħelwa and various other societies, and president of the Malta Folklore Society. He was awarded the Bronze Medal of Merit by the Conference of Civic Councils in 1969 and the Midalja għall-Qadi tar-Repubblika in 1996.

He is the author of Il-Ġojjin, an anthology of Maltese literature for young Maltese students that shaped entire generations in their love for the language.

He was educated at Stella Maris College and St. Michaels College of Education. He pursued other courses at the University of Malta and Dale Field Studies Centre in Wales. But the death of Guido’s father made him the breadwinner for his family, making it impossible for him to enter university early on in his life.

In 2004 Lanfranco won the annual Literary Prize on Folklore awarded by the Maltese National Council of Books.

In a festschrift to Lanfranco, the anthropologist Mark Anthony Falzon remembers his former colleague as a man of “impish irreverent humour and… willingness to share his wide knowledge of nature and folklore.”

It was evident that many in the academic field owned him a huge debt of gratitude. Even the great anthropologist Desmond Morris hailed him as “an exceptional scholar of the most fascinating group of islands of this planet”

Lanfranco inspired a generation of environmentalists thanks to his studiousness, as well as with his newfound interest in the study of folklore, discovering then how the islands were rapidly changing and desperately needed somebody to record what was soon to be lost.

The late Joe Sultana, the founder of BirdLife Malta, was an “indefatigable friend” in many ecological missions, and before his death in 2020 paid tribute to his friend’s line drawings of birds carried out back in 1954.

Sultana’s son Mark, the CEO of BirdLife Malta, said Lanfranco will be missed by many. “We thank him for all he has done for our natural heritage and for the legacy he leaves through his knowledge and the large amount of people he has inspired. BirdLife Malta salutes him while sending our sincere condolences to his wife, children and all his family.”

Lanfranco was one of BirdLife Malta’s founders and its first president from 1962 to 1967. “Guido was admired by many for his knowledge and passion for nature. Those who were lucky to meet him would have experienced his unique skill of explaining many technical issues in the simplest of ways, captivating his audience with immense passion,” Sultana said.

In 2015, Lanfranco was honoured with an honorary degree by the University of Malta. In his oration on Lanfranco, Dr Joseph A. Borg said: “Occasionally, we become acquainted with a person who has spent a lifetime working for the benefit of society. The impact of such an individual on people from all walks of life is considerable, including inspiring others to take up a particular interest or, even more significantly, a life-long profession. Guido Lanfranco is an outstanding example of such an individual.”

“Old age is no winter for Guido,” Louis J. Scerri wrote of the much loved Lanfranco in 2020, “rather a bountiful autumn when he can look back at his hard work and enjoy the rich harvest he has worked for throughout his life. He will take pride in the fact that not a few scholars have taken up his life’s work and console himself that he was able to love and cherish the islands before their depredation by the money-corsairs. We, on the other hand, are left with the sad dregs.”

His publications include Guide to the Flora of Malta (1955, 1960); Maltese Mammals (1969); Field Guide to The Wild Flowers of Malta (1969, 1977); Complete Guide to The Fishes of Malta (1958, 1965, 1974); Il-Ħut Madwar Malta – The Fish Around Malta (2009); Duwa u Semm fil-Ħxejjex Maltin (1975); The Fish Around Malta (1993, 1996); Ħxejjex Mediċinali u Oħrajn (1993, 2000); L-Istorja tat-Trasport F’Malta (1999,2002); L-Istatwi Titulari u l-Istatwarji Tagħhom (1999); Drawwiet u Tradizzjonijiet Maltin (2001 (darbtejn), 2002, 2012); Mediċina Popolari tal-Imgħoddi fil-Gżejjer Maltin (2001); Xogħol, Ġaħġiħ u Snajja’ li Spiċċaw (2002, 2003); Ħajjitna fl-Imgħoddi (2004); Folklor, ġabra ta’ kitbiet minn membri tal-Għaqda Maltija tal-Folklor (edit.) (2004); Drawwiet u Ħajja mill-Istorja ta’ Malta (2005); Logħob, Taqbil u Ġugarelli tat-Tfal Maltin (2006); Malta: Bejn Storja u Drawwa (2007); Nagħrfu l-Leġġendi Maltin (2008); Fjuri Slavaġ Maltin (2007); Ċajt bil-Limerikki (2008); Il-Ħut Madwar Malta / The Fish Around Malta (2009); Żwieġ, Twelid u Mewt… Drawwiet u Tradizzjonijiet (2011). Minbarra dawn għandu diversi kitbiet ma’ awturi oħra bħal: Red Data Book for The Matese Islands (1989), Flora u Fawna Ta’ Malta (1995 ), Wildlife of the Maltese Islands (1996, 2002), Mosta The Heart of Malta (1996), Naxxar, a Village and its People (2000), Ex Annalibus Mustae (2005), Ħaż-Żebbuġ, Storja, Memorja u Identità (2006), Il-Flora Maltija (2003), Ġojjin (kotba tal-iskola).