Family firms thrived in the days of gentlemanly respect for each other

Joe Gaggero was one of Gibraltar’s leading figures of the 20th Century. Most closely associated with GB Airways and the Bland Group and his much treasured Rock Hotel. He was also a key go-between for British and Moroccan commercial interests.

Born in Gibraltar on November 20 1927 he was awarded the CBE in 1989 and was made a Commander of the Alaouite Order of the Wissam in 2006. He was also a Knight Commander of the Holy Sepulchre (The Vatican).

Joe Gaggero bridged two very distinct eras in the life of Gibraltar. He came into the business world when the established family firms of the day thrived in a gentlemanly respect for each other. As the pressure from Franco’s Spain to bring the Rock to its economic knees made life more difficult he was increasingly forced to forge ahead in a more challenging and competitive environment where others began to fail. He eventually expanded into businesses well beyond the confines of his home town to achieve the success his driving spirit demanded.

The beginning of this century saw him heading one of the largest aviation, travel and tourism enterprises in the western Mediterranean with an annual turnover in excess of £350 million. On the Rock he enjoyed good, warm relationships at all levels of an evolving, more egalitarian social system. Equally, often through envy or tough negotiating, he created enemies. In business circles few could equal his dynamism and tenacity. Tough, but fair and trustworthy was his Main Street evaluation.

Preschool education and discipline there was aplenty from his mother Lady Mabel. Joe, like many wealthy merchants’ sons went on to school in England, namely Downside.

Sir George Gaggero, his father was a gentle giant who walked and talked with governors.

At the age of thirty-one, Joe married a young Gibraltarian beauty Marilys Healing. They had two children James and Rosanne, the former now heading the family business empire.

After almost thirty years with a grown family including two grandchildren the marriage broke up. Marilys was unable to persuade him to reduce the tempo of his work or tireless devotion to promoting the interests of Gibraltar and his Bland Group of Companies on the Rock and beyond. In the mid 1990s Joe married Christina Russo who also discovered he was not someone who was easily changed. Their marriage was dissolved in 2008.

Although a man who cherished his home life into which he increasingly brought his skill as a watercolour painter, it was in the market place of the business world that he eagerly, almost compulsively took up any challenge.

Joe lent his energy and drive to many bodies on the Rock – Director of the Chamber of Commerce (1951-56), Head of Gibraltar Government Tourist Department (1955-59), Chairman Hotel Association (1960-80), Chairman Gibraltar Shipping Association (1970-79). In England he was a member of the Council of the British Travel Association in the 1960s.

Outside the business world he was President of the Gibraltar Rotarians (1973-74), a Vice Chairman of the Gibraltar Society for Handicapped Children and Gibraltar Branch of the Royal Life Saving Society as well as Joint Patron Gibraltar Philharmonic Orchestra. In Britain he was a Member of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators and Chairman of the British Moroccan Society and Vice Chairman of the Moroccan British Business Council, an offshoot of the UK Department of Trade and Industry. He was a patron of the Hispanic British Foundation in Madrid and became its Hon Vice President in 2009.

Recognition of his services to the causes he supported came in the form of being made a Commander of the British Empire in 1989 and Knight of the Holy Sepulchre. As Honorary Consul for Sweden (1965-95) he was made Commander of the Royal Order of the Polar Star. The close ties held with Morocco, often in undulating political situations brought the closer to home award of Commander Royal Alaouite Order by King Mohammed VI. His peers in the airline industry honoured him by awarding him the Air League’s Founder’s Medal, which HRH The Duke of Edinburgh presented him in 2007. He was Inducted: Hall of Fame, Travel and Hospitality Industry, 2007. He was made a Knight of the Royal Order of Francis in 2011. But the award that made him proudest of all was receiving Gibraltar’s Medallion of Honour in 2009.

Elements of this obituary first appeared in The Gibraltar Chronicle.

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