BY CARMEN ANDERSON
Mr Canepa’s celebration was more than just an appreciation of receiving the award; it was a chance to reminisce with the friends of a lifetime, to share memories that form an intricate part of Gibraltar’s recent history. Together, they recalled a Gibraltar that has been transformed over the decades; a transformation that they witnessed throughout their lives.
Among those gathered at Theatre Café to celebrate with their former school friends was Ronald Barabich. “Adolfo lived near me when we were in infant school,” he recalled, “but he went to St Mary’s and I went to St Bernard’s so we didn’t really meet until we went to the junior school. Since then, we have maintained contact; he is my best friend in Gibraltar.”
Mr Barabich explained that the Grammar School’s former pupils had already held a number of reunions but conceded that this must count as the most important of those. He spoke in detail about what life was like as a schoolboy in the early 1950s: “We were in school at the time of in the infamous 11 plus. It was unfair because we were young and many of the pupils struggled with the examinations; they were nervous and consequently failed. Others were late developers – it was unfair at the age of eleven to establish the academic potential of anyone.” On a personal note, he confided that he did enjoy his school days and his favourite part of the school year, despite classing himself as a mediocre sportsman, being sports day.
They recalled a Gibraltar that has been transformed over the decades.
A published author, Mr Barabich explained that Adolfo Canepa had kindly proofread and wrote the forward to his first book, The Memoirs of Arnold Barobiscio, the recounting in fiction format of Mr Barabich’s memories of living in post-war Gibraltar. He is now writing a second book, also to be graced by a foreword and a proofread from Mr Canepa.
For his own part, Mr Canepa shared numerous reminiscences of his school years. “The Christian Brothers came here to educate a generation that would be able to take over the running of Gibraltar and it has happened,” he said, “two of us have been Chief Ministers, many top civil servants went to the Grammar School, as did other top professionals. The Grammar School was a great academic success for the benefit of Gibraltar.”
Inevitably, as in all areas of life, not all was cast in a golden glow, even when looking back with some degree of nostalgia. “For some people, the Grammar School wasn’t necessarily a happy place,” he continued with candour, “I have got one or two friends who struggled and weren’t treated as they should have been; it happens in schools. But, in my case, I enjoyed my six years, and cherish these friendships.”
Those friendships have lasted a lifetime and the Grammar School reunions have been an important part of keeping those bonds alive. “We have been meeting over the decades,” Mr Canepa said, “and we have something very special.”
When asked what his favourite memories or proudest moments were at the Grammar School, he immediately responded: “I think my favourite memory must have been going back as a teacher, eventually becoming Deputy Head. I am also proud of the fact that for two years, I was head boy.”
“There are still people who stop me in the street to congratulate me.”
But, of course, it wasn’t just the changes in education that this group of former Grammar School boys discussed, but the changes in Gibraltar as a whole. “The greatest revolution in Gibraltar has been in housing,” Mr Canepa pointed out, “I mean, there is still a housing problem, which I’m not sure will ever go away, but when most of us were young, the conditions under which we lived bear no resemblance to housing now. I studied for my A levels on a camp bed, in the corridor of a small flat with my parents.”
Of his award, Adolfo Canepa was a combination of proud, delighted, and humbled. He had known for some time that he was receiving the Freedom of the City, as he explained: “I found out a year before receiving the award, because the motion was taken to Parliament in February 2020. However, due to the pandemic, the actual ceremony of the conferment of the Freedom of the City had to be deferred for over a year.”
“The reaction has been incredible,” he enthused, “There are still people who stop me in the street to congratulate me, something which I hadn’t experienced before. I think that people identify with the Freedom of the City as it’s something that represents the people of Gibraltar.”
A man proud of his people and a witness to the long, sometimes hard road travelled by this small nation, Mr Canepa concluded: “In Gibraltar, we are now self-confident, and we no longer have any hang-ups about colonialism. We are self-governing and we punch above our weight which I think is marvellous. Over the centuries Gibraltar has shown that we can adapt to whatever we have to face, and therefore I hope that prosperity continues.”