A heartbreaking image of the popular restaurateur killed in Melbourne’s recent terror attack was revealed at his state funeral on Tuesday.
Sisto Malaspina was farewelled at St Patrick’s Cathedral in front of thousands of mourners who paid tribute to the larger-than-life character fatally attacked by terrorist Hassan Khalif Shire Ali on November 9.
While hundreds caught the eye paying tribute to the 74-year-old by replicating his vibrant fashion sense, it was an image of him cradling his newly born granddaughter in the order of service that hit home how tragic his loss is to his family.
Featuring a beaming Mr Malaspina and the latest addition to his family, the photo was taken just days before he was murdered metres from his infamous coffee house.
His son David addressed the crowd on Tuesday, saying the colourful turnout would have made his father smile.
“Dad never liked wearing black. Dad always thought the way you dressed should reflect your personality,” he said.
“Dad had a very colourful personality.”
Huge turnout for Melbourne icon
The crowd was from all walks of life – Italian migrants, politicians and dignitaries – but almost all had once sat on a stool at Pelligrini’s Espresso Bar and ordered pasta or a coffee. A long black was Sisto’s favourite.
Pelligrini’s, of which Sisto was the co-owner for several decades, was one of the first establishments to bring European coffee to a city which is now renowned for its cafe culture.
He had spent at least 70 hours a week at the restaurant for more than 40 years. On November 9, not far from his cafe, Sisto was stabbed to death by terrorist Hassan Khalif Shire Ali.
Two other men were also injured and police shot Shire Ali, 30, who later died in hospital.
Mourners chose to remember Sisto’s warm personality, rather than the circumstances of his death.
“Dad had the amazing ability to make everybody feel special,” David said.
“He had the amazing ability to lift one’s spirit with a greeting and that big smile – with the assistance of a bright, flamboyant shirt and ever-present cravat.”
His dad considered loyal patrons friends rather than customers.
Politicians and celebrities pay their respects
Among those friends were Premier Daniel Andrews and Opposition Leader Matthew Guy, who took the morning off election campaigning to attend with their wives Cath and Renae respectively.
Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Senator Derryn Hinch, Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp, former premier Steve Bracks, music mogul Michael Gudinski and chef George Calombaris also attended.
Victoria’s Governor Linda Dessau recalled how migrant families like her own flocked to the familiarity of Sisto’s European restaurant.
“Sisto has been described this week as kind, open-hearted, generous, charismatic, enthusiastic, optimistic, humble, hospitable, a beautiful man, a gentleman and the sort of man you wanted to hug,” she said.
Business tycoon Lindsay Fox recalled his 60-year friendship with Sisto.
He remembered singalongs at dinner parties, beers at the back of the restaurant and tradies and CEO’s sharing tables.
“Even back then, he had the ability to make everyone feel like part of the family,” Mr Fox said.
Media mogul Harold Mitchell spoke of dining with foreign ministers and White House officials at the restaurant.
“To Sisto, everyone was the foreign minister and Pellegrini’s was the UN,” he said.
Mr Mitchell drew rapturous applause when he stripped off his black suit jacket and tie, replacing them with a yellow jacket and matching cravat in tribute to his friend.
After the Catholic service, the coffin was carried out of the church by members of Victoria Police’s Critical Incident Response Team and made the journey to Sisto’s beloved restaurant one more time.
Lucia, a long time employee, tearfully released white doves as his hearse passed.