George Debono is perhaps known best for his environmental work – he watched the rapid rise of our car dependent world with dismay. It was his life’s work to draw attention to how unsustainable transport in Malta has become. But George, who passed away this week, was so much more than that.
Debono waged a one man war with the car culture on a number of fronts. As an environmentalist, he was opposed to the pollution they cause. He used his contributions to The Times of Malta to point out that only a serious focus on alternative modes of transport could ease Malta’s gridlock and pollution woes. He also bemoaned the loss of our collective ability to walk the streets without fear of being knocked down by speeding vehicles.
As a medical doctor, Debono saw the damage that a sedentary life in Malta was doing to people’s health. He advocated for better cycling and walking opportunities to reverse this.
Debono practiced what he preached. He used his bike religiously and would turn up to all manner of events in the saddle. This almost led him straight to the cells on one occasion when he tried to park his bike at the Prime Minister’s Office at Castille in Valletta, until he was unceremoniously removed by the policeman on duty.
Even as he became unwell, one of his regrets was that he was unable to cycle to the hospital for his check ups. As a founder member of think tank The Today Public Policy Institute, he never stopped campaigning for the environment and for safer cycling routes on the islands.
Debono decried the current state of politics in Malta, writing in the Times of Malta: “There is too much that is wrong with Malta’s present governance, institutions and politicians, and much has risen to the surface following the assassination of one of our journalists.”
He believed that Malta deserved better.
A true renaissance man, Debono was also known for his musical talent and, particularly, his ability to make instruments. Most notably, he constructed more than one clavichord, delicate instruments that require great precision to build. The endeavour lead to what was probably the first ever clavichord recital in Malta.
His attention to detail was astonishing. For example, he made the soundboard from “matured spruce from picea excelsa which grew in the Dolomites, Northern Italy”. It’s typical of Debono’s approach to sustainability that he got the keys from an old piano that a craftsman was turning into a desk.
He wrote, “It is nice to know that this old piano lives on in a new guise.”
Debono’s legacy will live on too, in the inspiration he gave others to cycle, recycle and live in tune with the natural and cultural beauty of the Maltese Islands.