You will not see Ruggero’s name among the pantheon of great motor industry personalities, famous worldwide for their specific contribution to the automotive milestones. But, a special group of friends in Italy and Australia recorded tales of their friendship recently in Sydney, Australia, at a celebration of his life, and passing.
Ruggero Rotondo (born Napoli, Italy, December 12, 1940) was the embodiment of Italian hospitality, friendship and caring for friends. He was born into a notable Neopolitan family, and graduated from university with a degree in civil engineering – a calling he did not follow. He heard a siren call from the automotive world, and eventually ended up as Managing Director for Alfa Romeo Australia. I first encountered him when I was the Editor of MODERN MOTOR magazine.
Ruggero was Italian charm personified. He welcomed you to the company headquarters as if it was his own space for personal entertainment. If you were admitted to his inner circle of friends, you enjoyed lunch in his office, served from the company canteen with antipasto, a choice of fish or meat for main course, Italian wine (of course), and a dessert followed by espresso.
All those who dined there with him were of course extremely devoted to the joys of driving Alfa Romeos, but should you criticize ‘his’ cars in any way, he would tell you that you had ‘stabbed him in the heart.’
Ruggero, after he retired, would spend six months in Naples, and six months in Sydney. He loved the great outdoors, and sadly his love of hunting ultimately led to his untimely death at 76 in a tragic road accident on a hunting trip in Estonia in November this year.
As I said, he was not among the highest echelon of motor industry personalities, who have achieved great success in the industry in their lifetime. He was simply great at his job, whatever it was, great to be around, and sympatico with cars and competition.
Once, after I joined the car industry as PR Director for JRA he approached me at the Sydney International Motor Show in 1987: “Giovanni, why do you not visit me for lunch these days?”
I replied: “I work in the industry now, I am not an automotive journalist.”
“No matter”, he said. “We are friends, you will come to lunch with me next Monday.”
I attended, as instructed. We had a delightful lunch with pasta and chianti, and when we finished, he opened the ‘famous’ Alfa Romeo ‘gift cupboard’ and presented me with a glass model of an Alfa Romeo Tipo 159 racing car.
The glass model has sat on my desk at home, wherever in the world I was living.
“This is a special gift from me to you, I hope you will always remember our friendship.”
Ruggero, I do, with great affection. Here was a man of integrity, passion, love for his friends and supremely effective in his job. All of us who knew Ruggero and his wonderful family; Jill, his former wife, and his two beautiful daughters Roberta and Sheryl, were brought to a simple understanding that the qualities he personified were intrinsically Italian in nature, and universal in their application and that a love for life exceeded every other consideration.
I'm sure Ruggero would be thrilled that I now drive an Alfa Romeo 159, making me a fully paid-up Alfisti.
Valé Ruggero Rotondo – you made our lives happy and warm. Grazia, arrivaderci.