One of Melbourne’s most famous businessmen and philanthropists, Pasquale ‘Pat’ LaManna OAM, died peacefully on 10 February 2023, aged 90, surrounded by his loving family. A devoted husband to his wife of more than 60 years, Helen, he was also a loving father to Vince, Lisa, Angela and Greg, grandfather of 10 and great grandfather (‘Big Nonno’) of nine. His requiem Mass was held at St Peter’s Catholic Church, Toorak, on 16 February 2023.

Born on 10 June 1932, Pat immigrated to Australia aged 16 from a small Italian town just outside of Reggio, Calabria, landing at Essendon Airport in 1948. At the time, he spoke no English. His first job in Australia was working on a potato farm in Colac, and he opened his first fruit shop in 1952, in Preston. He spent many years as a retailer in the Queen Victoria Market, later establishing a banana wholesale business with his sons in Footscray in the 1970s. The family business went on to become the famous LaManna Bananas and grew further with the launch of LaManna Direct, now LaManna Melbourne, which is located at Essendon Fields in Melbourne’s north-west, not far from where Pat first landed more than 60 years earlier.

In his early years in Melbourne, he met the love of his life, Helen. During the Words of Remembrance at the requiem Mass, Pat’s son Greg shared that ‘at 15 years old, our mum, Helen, upon her first day in her job, could not have known that the man, her boss, was going to be her life partner and they would create a legacy over the 65 years they shared together.’

Greg went on to describe his father as a ‘pioneer’, and though he was only 5 foot 4—he would stand on a banana box at the footy—he had ‘the personality of a giant’.

In front of hundreds, he was in his element; the bigger the crowd, the more his mind and voice were driven. Dad took what many of us think as generosity or giving to a whole new dimension, not only by financial help, but [by] working with people towards their better future. Even us, his family could not count the tireless decades of his work and the help he gave to others. Dad would not stop.

Pat was widely known for his deep faith and years of active community service. Together with Helen, he supported many initiatives within the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne and as a member of the Knights of the Southern Cross, who sponsor a priests support and education fund in Victoria though initiatives such the annual Archbishop’s Dinner, which raises money annually to help educate seminarians and priests.

The Knights of the Southern Cross also sponsor the annual Passion Play on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, an event established more than 25 years ago when Pat experienced an overwhelming desire to create an outdoor re-enactment of the story of Christ for the people of Melbourne. Motivated by his deep and sincere faith in Christ, he remained a driving force behind the event.

As well as his larger contributions, Pat was known for helping many individuals in need. At the requiem Mass, son Vince shared a text sent to him in recent days: ‘Vince, your dad changed my life forever when he organised a fundraiser to buy the machine for my treatment. My life would’ve been so different if it wasn’t for Pat. He was always thinking of others before himself.’

‘That was our dad,’ said Vince.

Pat recognised for his years of service

In 2009, Pat was awarded the Australia Day honour of ‘Senior Australian of the Year’. During his speech, he spoke of the ‘privilege to be Australian and the opportunity to serve’.

‘To be faithful and do community service is the greatest pleasure in life,’ he said.

‘I hope and pray I can encourage others to be generous and give to people who need help—it can be money, time, or talent. We are lucky to be Australian. We must be responsible and loyal to our lovely country and respect and support our government. Together we must build a better Australia for our future generations and continue to be the greatest country in the world, and role model to all nations. God bless you, God bless the world, and Happy Australia Day.’

His speech also paid tribute to the most important person in his life—his wife Helen: ‘Sixty years ago, I fell in love with a wonderful Australian girl, so I married her. She played a very big role in my community service, and I would like you to put your hands together and thank my beautiful wife, Helen.’

Many of the words of remembrance shared by their family were a testament to their love story and to Pat’s rich legacy. Granddaughter Gemma observed that while his work and charity activities brought him much fulfilment, ‘the thing that brought him the most joy was the family that he and my Nana had created together. Having all of us in the same room gave him such a sense of pride and joy, and he never hesitated to tell us how much he loved us.

‘There was only one thing that rivalled his love for his family and that was his love for my Nana … No matter what he was talking about or who he was talking to, my Nana was the first person he would ever mention and thank.’

Pat documented his life story in a book called My Life, which he published and gave to family members. In it, he shared the experiences that made him who he was—stories and memories that are now deeply treasured by many. ‘Dad was from a generation that we are now losing: men and women who migrated from another country with nothing, but they turned their life into great history. In Dad’s true being, he wrote his own history book and he lived it,’ said Greg.

His first-born grandson, Patrick, spoke of the ‘many amazing things’ his Nonno had done and recalled the many times he would hear during a random encounter that his grandfather had influenced someone’s life for the better. ‘Countless times I would tell someone my name and people would say, “I used to work for Pat LaManna”, or how they remembered him for his fruit shop, or at this place or that, and every time how he was such “a great man”.

‘We are so blessed to have had this man lead our family for so many years. The level of respect that our family name has carried and what that meant to him—it was everything. I feel that was one of the most important principles in his life: to have a name people won’t forget when he leaves this earth. A name that translates to humility, love and respect, and that transcends generations.’

On the last page of Pat’s book is a poem called ‘What will matter?’—a reminder of all the values that Pat embodied:

What will matter is not what you built, not what you got, but what you gave.
What will matter is not your success, but your significance.
What will matter is not what you learn, but what you taught.
What will matter is every act of compassion, courage, and sacrifice that encouraged others to be like you.
What will matter is not how many people knew you, but how many felt the loss when you were gone?
What will matter is not your memories, but the memories of those who loved you.
What will matter is how long you'll be remembered by whom and for what.
Live a life that matters. It doesn't happen by accident.
It’s a matter of choice. Choose a life that matters.

Pat LaManna chose a life that matters. In the words of his son Greg, ‘May you rest in peace knowing the world is a better place for you being here and the world will miss you dearly.’

On 16 February 2023, Pasquale ‘Pat’ LaManna’s requiem Mass was held at St Peter’s Catholic Church, Toorak, led by parish priest Fr Brendan Hayes and concelebrated by Monsignor Franco Cavarro of St Clement of Rome Parish, Bulleen, and Fr Victor Farrugia, St Augustine’s Parish, Melbourne. He was buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery. A recording of the Mass can be seen here.

Photos courtesy of the LaManna family.