“It was really a trail of minor successes, I went up and up.” This short autobiographical phrase comes from Joe Caruana, a local author of historical fact and historical fiction, a politician who built up the face of Gibraltar, a salesman of ingenuity, a healer working in drug rehabilitation and an artist of still life and in real life.
Joe has spent the last fifty years of his life excelling in various industries, numerous causes and crafts, a jack of all trades and even a master of some; a true polifacético.
This year he celebrates his first decade as an established Gibraltarian author as ten years have passed since his first book, an autobiography that travels that trail of minor successes, titled Spirit of the Phoenician. Since that first book, four others have followed in quick succession, including two biographies, one historical crime novel that turned out to be real, and a historical novel that could very well be real. Joe is an author whose life has been an unplanned natural progression but a progression with intention of serving: serving art, serving others, and serving his Gibraltar.
Serving art, serving others, and serving his Gibraltar.
The trail begins during World War Two: A child of the evacuation, Joe entered into this world with an education deferred as the war meant that he only began to learn to read and write when he was eight years old. The first big opportunity to grow, came with the opportunity to become a draftsman. This step allowed him an opportunity in the UK, where his studies continued.
Working in the UK, Joe found himself a master of serendipity; a chance meeting in a fish market led to Joe importing fish to Gibraltar, and small talk with a shop attendant led to selling undergarments in the UK. At one point, Joe moved back to Gibraltar and opened two fish stores and a wholesale. It is this entrepreneurial momentum that took Joe up and up as these minor successes accumulated over time.
His work as a draftsman led to Joe becoming an industrial engineer working with industrial diamond tools, but just as this logical practicality may have set the trajectory of his career, it also developed the keen artistic eye, which he believes was the basis of his creativity: the eye for proportion, the importance of perspective and the consideration of colour.
Interestingly it was a foundational skill that he brought to Gibraltarian politics as his next step began in 1966, when Joe joined the Integration with Britain Party under the leadership of Sir Robert Peliza, the subject of his first biography, The Life and Times of Sir Robert Peliza.
In 1969, Joe was invited to form part of Sir Peliza’s government as Minister for Health and Minister for Public Services. It was during this time that Joe orchestrated projects all around Gibraltar, taking responsibility for a period with the most public works in Gibraltar, including Varyl Begg Estate, the original Primary Care Centre (and its services), and the beautification of Devil’s Tower Road. The work of building up Gibraltar on the grand political scale was only part of a job well done; for Joe, after twelve years living in Canada, spent the next fourteen years setting up and running Camp Emmanuel from 1987, a drug rehabilitation centre for building up Gibraltarians on the individual, spiritual level, after his ‘eyes were opened’ in Canada.
And then, after an MBE, open heart surgery, and his marriage to his wonderful wife, Joe has worked on cultivating his craft as an artist of ‘reasonably priced’ still life paintings, but his prime focus over the last ten years has been the written word.
Joe found himself a master of serendipity.
After Spirit of the Phonecian that chronicles his family history and his own life, Joe wrote When the Hangman Came, about the Opisso murder that took place in the house beside his childhood home, the story always intrigued him after hearing what had occurred before his family had arrived. The book tells a true murder story and argues that justice was miscarried as an innocent man was sent to the gallows. The Iron Knight of Malta came next; a historical novel based on the story of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem and the hero of the story, the Order’s Grand Master, Jean de la Valette and their battle for Malta. Two biographies then followed, the aforementioned account of Sir Peliza’s life and Eyes Set on Heaven, the biography of Joe’s late brother Bishop Charles Caruana. This last biography was a challenge but allowed Joe deeper insight into the man that was his companion, best friend, confessor, and brother.
The remarkable thing about these five books is that though they are small steps and minor successes, they have a full life and deep love enriched in their pages. They are fruit from an artist living a well lived life. Minor successes along a road towards excellence.