Local Face: Romeo Di Girolamo

  |  Published: Apr 1st 1998

Romeo Di Girolamo was born in Citvitella, Casanova, Italy in 1939 but moved to Quainton in 1949 with his family and late step-father, Mr EM D'Elia (ex-prisoner of war).

His leadership and artistic qualities were first recognised and encouraged by the late Mr A E Lawes, headmaster of the village C of E school where Romeo first won the Buckinghamshire Architectural Drawing Competition, at 13. He also became Head Boy and Sports Captain. At 14, bicycles were provided for pupils to attend Waddesdon C of E School for one year where Romeo's talent for sport and art continued to flourish winning District and County honours in athletics, football and boxing as well as repeating his success in the Buckinghamsbire Architectural Drawing Competition. He then went to High Wycombe School of Art, 1954-9, and was awarded the Buckinghamsbire Art Scholarship for three years, a Royal Academy Travelling Scholarship and a Granada Theatres National Painting Prize.

Meanwhile his talent at sport was encouraged as the 16-year-old centre forward for Aylesbury United football team followed by a spell back in Italy with Roma. Unfortunately, at 17, he broke his leg playing for Aylesbury United which ended serious sport playing. However, he successfully managed two football clubs and in the early seventies was elected to Honorary Secretary and subsequently Chairman of the Anglo Italian Football Association.

Romeo went into teaching with the express intention of giving his students the best possible opportunities as had been given to him. He was Head of Art in Marlow, Slough (in Bucks) and Wolverton when an opportunity arose at his old Alma Mater, Wycombe College so he moved again. Following the transfer of the School of Art and Design into the new College in Amersham in 1972, Romeo progressed through the lecturing ranks to become Head of the School of Art and Design at the very young age of 36. This was a very exciting period in the teaching of Art and Design in Buckinghamshire. It was under Romeo's leadership that the School of Art and Design went on to become so famous and influential that the Prime Minister of the day, Margaret Thatcher invited Romeo to 10, Downing Street, entertained him and his students at Chequers and made an exclusive visit to the School of Art and Design.

At 17, Romeo started exhibiting at the Royal Society of British Artists and was elected to full membership at the age of 23. At 19, he made his debut at the Royal Academy where in the '60's his large industrial landscapes brought him national and international acclaim. In 1959 his work was chosen for a major exhibition of 18 artists including A J Ensor, J Herman,LS Lowry, H Moore and G Sutherland.

In 1967 the FBA honoured him by mounting a one man exhibition at 61/2 Suffolk Street. In the same year he received the La Voce award for outstanding Anglo Italian personality of the year. Romeo has had a number of one man shows, taken part in many mixed ones and has featured in several exhibitions arranged under the patronage of the Italian Embassy, including a retrospective held at 17 Grosvenor Square. In 1978, the Italian Govermnent conferred on him the title of Cavaliere 0 M R I (knighthood) for outstanding achievements.

Romeo and his wife Megan. a renowned sculptor and teacher in her own right. have always enjoyed living in Buckinghamshire, in Quainton, Aylesbury and since 1970, Nash Lee Road. The land boasted a little 19th century prefabricated shack built by the local Rothschild for his landworkers. The planners agreed that it was acceptable to use natural materials mahogany wood and Cotswold stone, fashioned by himself to build a bungalow. He enjoys living in Wendover and is very pleased to be able to coach lunchtime footballers at W. Middle School where his grandson is a pupil.

Since his early retirement in 1989, Romeo has served as an external consultant to a number of educational establishments and validating bodies. He has been chairman of Queens Park Arts Centre and is currently chairman of Aylesbury College Art and Design Consultative Committee. His main commitment has been devoted to the introduction of a comprehensive Fine Art education policy for the RBA. Following the successful launch of the first phase of the BA Degree Course at Northbrook College, Worthing, the president and council honoured Romeo with a crystal trophy for distinguished service. On 16th March, Romeo Di Girolamo succeeded Colin Hayes RA, PPRBA as the 36th President of the 213 year old Royal Society of British Artists.

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