Hairdresser to Sir Alf Ramsey's wife dies at 81
PUBLISHED: 17:01 03 August 2019 | UPDATED: 23:44 04 August 2019
Stylist asked wife-to-be for a date the first time they met − when she came to get her hair cut. They were married for 57 years
For Domenico Lavergata, having endured a first English winter much colder than he'd known in Italy, the beautiful blonde young lady walking through the door was a vision to warm his heart. He wasted little time - and asked her out.
Diane Brabrook, who worked at Boots the Chemist, had come simply to have her hair cut. It was the first time she'd been to Mr George's salon in Bury St Edmunds - going on the recommendation of a friend who sang its praises. On such seemingly-mundane decisions do lives turn.
Diane's hair was halfway down her back that day when she sat before hairdresser Domenico. "He said 'You no cry if I cut-a your hair?'" she remembers. "That was it, really."
There were no tears. Instead, in his very broken English, the young man born near Pompeii asked for a date. The young lady from west Suffolk agreed - but only if her friend could come too.
Fine. His friend had a car and, when the day arrived, they headed for Cambridge and an enjoyable visit spent listening to jazz.
With Domenico speaking precious little English, and his date having not a word of Italian, how did they communicate? "Well, we got by," says Diane. Pointing and gesturing, mainly.
She chuckles. "He'd tell people later 'My wife taught me my English: "Here is my knee and here are my lips",' but I never did say that at all!"
They had a second date - at the Odeon cinema in Bury, she thinks. Just the two of them. The title of the film is lost in the mists of time. It was 1961, so a lot of water has since flowed under the bridge.
Whatever was showing on the screen, it was clear Domenico was smitten and that Diane had fallen for his Latin charm and sense of humour. She managed the cosmetics department at Boots. "He'd keep turning up - 'I'm just passing, so I thought I'd come and say hello'."
Domenico proposed on her 21st birthday that August and they married in the October at St Edmunds Roman Catholic Church in Westgate Street, Bury.
Sadly, no-one from his family could attend - no cheap flights in those days - but his father apparently wrote to the Queen, explaining his son was going to marry a British bride, and sought a bit of assistance to come over.
"He had a letter back, from a secretary, saying they would like to, but, if they did, they would have to do it for everybody," says Diane.
The marriage would last for more than 57 years - ended only by Domenico's death from cancer. During that time, he became a hairdresser of repute in the county town - opening his own salon in Ipswich - and a much-loved dad and grandfather. He'd also become known as Domenic.
The navy, then hair
Domenico was born in Salerno - south-east of Naples - in January, 1938. He was the fourth of eight children.
Though his father had quite a good job with the water board, life was quite hard - particularly during the war.
At times, Domenico and his brothers collected wood on the beach so the family could cook for free over open fires. At times, too, the family found food where it could.
At 18 he joined the Italian navy. There was a couple of years of compulsory national service, based in Malta, and Domenico enjoyed the adventures and opportunities that came his way.
Afterwards, he had the chance to train as a hairdresser, starting with his brother-in-law in Salerno and later moving on to work at Positano, on the western side of the Amalfi coast - the haunt of affluent tourists. In the early days, his father found the money to pay for his son to become an apprentice.
It was money well spent, for Domenico took quickly to hairdressing - a natural, with a real passion for the craft.
One of Domenico's friends had left Italy to work in Bury St Edmunds. When he later opted to move to America, he suggested his pal might like to take his place at the Hatter Street salon, called "George".
It's thought Domenico's father paid for the train journey to England in November, 1960, where the new recruit found lodgings with a Polish family.
The young man was keen to spend a couple of years abroad, so he could learn the language and return to Italy able to speak English. "Then he met me… and changed his life!" smiles Diane.
What did the newcomer from the southern half of Italy think of England?
"He didn't think much to it when he first came. He got off at that little station and thought 'What have I done?' And it was cold. He was used to warm weather."
Domenico had to report to the police station regularly, too, as an alien!
The next milestone was of course his marriage, followed by a honeymoon in London.
The couple initially rented a flat in College Street, Bury, and then moved to St Andrew's Street North. Maria was their first addition to the family, followed in 1965 by Lucia, John in 1967 and Mario in 1969.
John's official name is Giovanni - the Italian equivalent - but he's always been known by the English version. His mum explains: "When he went to school, I said to Domenic 'It's always going to be a bit difficult, with a long name like that, for the kids to remember it.' So we called him John from thereon."
Did the couple have much discussion about the names they gave their children? Well, Diane didn't really have a say…
She says that while she was still lying in bed, after giving birth, her husband would always nip off to the register office to lodge the name - clearly having firm ideas about what the baby should be called.
"One thing wrong: he'd get to the register office and have to ring me up - to ask me the date of our marriage, and other dates. He could never remember, poor man!"
Domenico worked at George in Bury St Edmunds before moving on to Felicia, up the road. Then came the chance to go across-county.
He became the manager of several salons owned by Paddy Dawson, including Charmaine's, above a boutique in The Walk.
In the autumn of 1967 the couple bought a home in Evabrook Close, in the Stoke Park area of Ipswich. They were the first family to live in the new house.
The added responsibility, managing the salons, meant long days. Diane remembers her husband having to go round during the evenings, collecting the takings, and not getting home until late.
He always had ambitions of running his own show. Just before the arrival of their fourth child in 1969, those dreams came true with the opening of his own salon: Domenic Hair Fashions, above a butcher's shop on the corner of Crown Street and High Street.
Domenic (that's what we'll call him from now!) enjoyed being at the helm, though naturally it was hard graft. He was a stickler as a boss, says the family - much like a chef who'd instil the correct habits in his staff to ensure standards were met.
"He wanted complete cleanliness," says Diane. "If anybody was throwing things about, or leaving hair anywhere…" If he had something to say, he'd say it. "He never counted to 10! But you knew where you stood with him."
Lucia: "If you wanted to learn, and he knew you had it in you, he would keep on at you until you got it right."
She adds: "Me and my sister had to go after school to help clean up the salon. And on Saturdays we had to be there, passing rollers. He said 'This is a family business. You've got to get involved. You've got to see how we earn money.'"
They received pocket money, though. "It did teach you lessons in life: to value your money and to not expect something for nothing. We thank him for it now. He just wanted to teach us that in life you have to work if you want something."
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Their brothers had to cut the grass or clean the windows. "We had to help mum in the house as well; it was the way we were brought up."
Domenic at one time chaired the local branch of the National Hairdressers' Federation, and would travel around to judge competitions.
He might have been a demanding boss, but he clearly knew his stuff. A number of people who worked for him went on to start their own businesses, including Terry Eaks, who for 38 years ran a chain of salons under the Roberterry banner.
To Italy… and back
In 1986, pretty much the whole family moved to Italy. It seemed the pull of a country that Domenic had always called "home" was too strong.
"He said he missed his family and he wanted to spend time with his parents," explains Lucia, "but I think my grandma had a stroke the second day we were there, and passed away a few months later."
Domenic went from being a hairdresser to a greengrocer, buying a little shop in his native Salerno.
"We had to get up at three o'clock in the morning to go to the market to buy everything, and bring it back. Then we didn't get home until nine o'clock at night," recalls Diane.
"Because everything closes in the afternoon, with the heat, you open again at six o'clock, until about half-past eight. Very tough."
She liked the scenery, and loved the food, but found the move something of a step too far. Domenic didn't need much persuading about a move back to Suffolk in 1988. Not surprisingly, his hometown had changed since he was a lad. People he'd known had married and moved away, for instance.
The whole clan didn't return at that time, however. Lucia, for instance, spent 24 years in Italy. Sister Maria is still there, teaching English.
Back in Ipswich, Domenic worked at Tooks the bakery before opening another hair salon: Don Mimi, in St Matthew's Street.
He later returned to his former shop unit in Crown Street, did it up, and worked there until his mid-60s. Later still, he worked part-time at Roberterry and was able to look after his loyal clients.
In his 70s, Domenic began to get ill with a bad chest. It worsened with time, there was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and he grew weaker over the years. He still loved his trips back to Italy - the chance to see his beloved sisters and brothers - but his health declined steadily after the last visit a couple of years ago.
When advanced cancer was diagnosed this year, the family learned Domenic had only weeks left. He died aged 81. His funeral mass was held at the town centre St Pancras Catholic Church in Orwell Place.
As well as Diane and his children, he left grandchildren Mario, Nina, Mirko, Fabio, Diana and Mia.
"We put his hairdressing scissors and his comb in his pocket, in case anybody up there wanted their hair done," says his wife.
The beautiful game
The memories we leave are our legacy. Domenic left many.
An early one from Diane: "My mother filled the pantry up. My brother and Domenic went in there one Sunday night and ate the lot!"
She says of her husband: "He was a very caring person. So generous. He didn't expect me to be his 'slave'. He'd help cook. He'd want to be left to it - 'get out of my kitchen!'"
When the family visited Italy, they'd hire a minibus and stop en route in countries such as France, Belgium, Germany, Austria and Switzerland during the three-day journey.
"They're memories that stay with you for life," says Lucia. "I remember the Great St Bernard Pass (connecting Switzerland and Italy). Everything looks so big when you're a kid."
Domenic loved football - and got very animated and voluble about it. "Some people used to come round just to watch dad watch the football!" says Lucia.
Not surprisingly, the Italian national team was the main focus of his passion. Granddaughter Diana recalls: "When they won the World Cup in 2006, Mum and I were living there and he'd tell us to bring back all the posters."
Domenic also supported Ipswich Town, though Saturday working limited the number of matches he could attend. He was, though, at Wembley for one of the Blues' greatest triumphs. Diane remembers a crowd crammed into the first-floor salon, watching from their vantage point, when the team enjoyed a victory parade through the town in 1978 with the FA Cup.
Later - just before Christmas, 1995 - the Anglo-Italian Cup competition brought Salerno club Salernitana to Portman Road. (A 2-0 triumph for the Blues - on a day of divided loyalties?)
Domenic's involvement with the beautiful game wasn't confined to spectating. For a time, he pulled on a tracksuit and coached the Sunday League side Italia, whose home ground was off Lovetofts Drive, Ipswich.
"He loved it when all the family sat round the table to eat. It gave him pleasure," says Diane. "You see adverts showing families around the table in Italy, and it is true."
Granddaughter Diana: "When many people think about Granddad, they think about coming round for dinner. When you lived in Evabrook Close, there would be street parties." For occasions such as the Queen's silver jubilee.
Domenic was community-minded, generous and hospitable - here and in terms of his homeland. When southern Italy was hit by its most forceful earthquake in 70 years, late in 1980, he helped organise relief support in Ipswich. The quake, measured at between 6.5 and 6.8 on the Richter scale, killed almost 2,500 people, injured nearly 8,000 and made about 250,000 homeless.
Lost in translation
Domenic was well-known for his inability to grasp English euphemisms and expressions.
Once, a client came to the salon in tears, and confided she had lost her mother. Domenic began comforting her, and said she couldn't have gone far. He'd help search.
It took an apprentice hairdresser to explain that the mother had not simply wandered off in Ipswich town centre but had died.
He could also be a bit clumsy and over-ambitious.
Once, he sought to recapture his youth by riding a motor-scooter. Everything was going swimmingly until he opened the throttle, shot across the road and smashed into a brick wall.
In the hospital accident and emergency department, hours later, he explained he'd been showing everyone how a genuine Italian rode a Lambretta…
Life as the child of a hairdresser could be interesting.
"My hair was always short," says Lucia. "With anyone who came for a trial, to work with dad, me or my sister had to sit there and they'd experiment on our hair! This is the first time I've had long hair!"
Diana says: "He's always been supportive. We used to live in Italy. When my brother moved over here, he (granddad) used to get him up at five o'clock in the morning, to find him a job straightaway. And he used to take me to football training, and watch me play."
The family says Domenic had a fantastic sense of humour. "We used to play practical jokes," says Lucia. "He liked his espresso coffee and the boys would put out soy sauce in a tiny espresso cup. He used to go mad! 'What have you done!' But he was a good sport.
"We blacked his glasses out, one day, to pretend it was bedtime, too! We were lucky to have had such a lovely dad. He taught us a lot in life."