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18th August 2022, 15:19

​Former Minister for Health and Sport, Mari Montegriffo, dies age 72

Former Minister for Health and Sport, Mari Montegriffo, has died at the age of 72.

She served in the House of Assembly, later Parliament, between 1984 and 2007, and was Mayor for seven years.

Jonathan Sacramento looks back on her life.

Maria Louisa Montegriffo, known as Mari, was always a high flyer. At the Loreto Convent School she was the Head Girl, School prefect, and school sports captain, and at the age of 17 she was secretary to Sir Bob Peliza, who would go on to become Chief Minister.

In the seventies she lived in London for five years, working for the National Data Processing Service.

In the 80s she became a Union shop steward, and it was here that she met Joe Bossano, who persuaded her to join the GSLP. She was elected into Opposition in her first election in 1984, going on to win in 1988, when she became Minister for Health and Sport.

In her eight years as Minister, Mari saw the health budget increase from 8 million to 23 million a year, and oversaw the refurbishment of the Old St Bernard's Hospital.

She is, perhaps, best remembered for what she considered one of her proudest moments - the hosting of the 1995 island games, dubbed 'the Sunshine Games', which came shortly after the renovation of the Victoria Stadium.

A keen sportswoman, she played squash in her youth, and was local women's champion twelve years in a row.

She was also a singer and pianist, and performed in the 1980 International Song Festival. Even in the later years of her retirement she continued to perform in a local band.

Mari was considered a ferocious political combatant, and few enjoyed being on her wrong side. As a gay woman in politics, she was never flustered by the obstacles she had to overcome, and became an inspiration for those who have encountered prejudices in life.

Mari Montegriffo was a staunch GSLP supporter till the end. After a long illness, she is now survived by her long term partner Gillaine, whom she married recently.

Government Tribute

The Government deeply regret the sad passing of former Minister Marie Montegriffo.

Marie served as a Member of the House of Assembly from 1984 until 2007. In that time she was a Minister from 1988 until 1996, serving as Minister for Medical Services and Health, also as Minister for Sport. She had the privilege of leading on the organisation of the first highly successful Island Games to be held in Gibraltar in 1995.

Marie served as an Opposition Member from 1984 until 1988, before becoming a Minister, and again from 1996 until 2007, after holding ministerial office.

She was also Mayor of Gibraltar from 1988 to 1995.

The Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said:

“I was very sorry to learn of the sad passing of my friend and colleague Marie Montegriffo. She devoted over twenty years to public service in Gibraltar and held an exemplary record both as a Government Minister and as an Opposition Parliamentarian. The deepest condolences of the Government and people of Gibraltar go out to her family and friends, especially her partner Gillaine at this sad time.”

The Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia said:

“Marie was a fighter all her life. I had the privilege of serving with her in Opposition from 1999 until she retired in 2007. She was a great parliamentary performer, with a wonderful grasp of the issues, as well as a passionate defender of the right of the people of Gibraltar to determine their own future.”

Flags will fly at half mast from all government buildings, the GHA and City Hall tomorrow in honour of Ms Montegriffo. 

GSLP Tribute

It is with the greatest sadness that we learn of the passing away of our dear friend and colleague Marie Montegriffo.

Above all Marie was an extraordinary human being whose human and socialist values guided her throughout her life. She will be remembered by all in Gibraltar and especially in the GSLP for those human qualities.

Marie was also a well known sports woman who represented Gibraltar internationally.

She started her political work in the Transport and General Workers Union in the ACTS branch in the 1970s. She was one of the original members of the GSLP and was elected to the House of Assembly in 1984 when the party took all the seven opposition seats. She became a minister when the party formed government in 1988 and was appointed Minister for Medical Services, Health and Sport.

As Minister for Health she carried out many reforms to the old St Bernard's Hospital which had been severely needed at the time.

As Minister for Sport she presided over the organisation of the first Island Games in Gibraltar.

Marie was also appointed as the first woman Mayor of Gibraltar between 1988 and 1995 and as such hosted many international visitors to Gibraltar.

Many constituents and friends sought Marie's help even after she left active politics and when she was a private citizen.

The Chairman of the GSLP, Pepe Baldachino, said: "My family and I, and the whole of the GSLP family on behalf of Executive and Membership, offer our deepest condolences to Marie's partner Gillaine and to her brother Christopher and sister Annette. We have known Marie since the 70's when she started on the TGWU and my family will truly miss her, as, indeed, will the whole of the GSLP family. She might have left us but will never be forgotten by the GSLP for her contribution to the Party and Gibraltar as a whole. May you forevermore rest in peace amiga Marie."

The founder of the party, Hon Sir Joe Bossano MP, said: "I am genuinely saddened to hear of Marie's death. She had battled her illness for years and remained in contact with all of us on the GSLP throughout. I still remember vividly the days we worked together on the Union, in the Opposition and in the Government and remember Marie's hard work in those days as we turned Gibraltar around. Appointing her as Gibraltar's first woman Mayor was important, but she got the support of the House for the appointment not because she was a woman but because she was the right person for to represent all Gibraltarians. Today we have lost a colleague and I have lost a friend who I will never forget. I extend my condolences to Gillaine and her whole family."

The leader of the GSLP and Chief Minister, the Hon Fabian Picardo QC MP, said: "I have been truly saddened to hear of Marie's passing. I sat next to Marie in the House of Assembly between 2003 and 2007 and I learnt a lot about the political history of the House from her in those long parliamentary sessions. She was above all a friend and a point of reference in matters related to the health services and sport. I know she had not been well for some time, although she remained in contact with me and was always supportive of our work as a party. In politics she was one of the team of trailblazers who transformed Gibraltar in the late eighties under the leadership of Sir Joe and in the Mayoralty her contribution as Gibraltar's first woman Mayor was historic, but it was her flair, her personal warmth and her engaging ability to represent all Gibraltarians with a friendly smile that impressed the most. My condolences to all her family, especially to Gillaine at this sad time." 

Leader of the Opposition Tribute

Mari Montegriffo played a major role in politics for decades as a long-standing member of the GSLP, Opposition Parliamentarian, Government Minister and Mayor. She was Minister for Health for many years and then after 1996 my direct opposite number in the House of Assembly. She was a tenacious political advocate at all times and we had a really good, constructive and friendly relationship beyond the political differences on issues. Our condolences and best wishes to her family and friends. Mari trail-blazed in her political roles in many respects and was an example to young women.

Together Gibraltar Tribute

Mari Montegriffo was a trailblazer and a woman of principle. As one of our first female political representatives and the the first female Mayor of Gibraltar, she was an example to all those women who dared challenge the social conventions that restrain the role of women in society.

Party leader Marlene Hassan Nahon said:

“As a friend she was kind, generous and supportive, always ready to give insightful advice. As a politician she was an example of honesty and mindful pragmatism.

She was faithful to her party, but was also capable of discussing issues openly and honestly, always prioritising the greater good of the community.

It was this openness and temperance that allowed her to take part in Together Gibraltar discussions and engage with political rivals with elegance and respect.

These qualities, which we now associate to a bygone era in which politics was more about the betterment of society and less about self aggrandisement and partisanship, should be praised and recognised by our community as we celebrate her life and achievements.

May her example lead us all.
Our most heartfelt condolences go out to Mari’s wife Gillaine, her family and friends.”