AN auxiliary nurse and B&B hotel proprietor whose family founded Valvona and Crolla has died at the age of 91.
Olivia Benita Contini, one of six siblings, was born in Edinburgh in 1924. The family lived in a flat in Brunton Place and she was educated at Holy Cross Primary and Academy.
She was ten when her father set up Valvona and Crolla. He died in 1940, the same year that Italy entered the Second World War, and her two brothers, Domenico and Vittorio, were interned along with thousands of other Italians in Britain, deemed the “enemy within”.
Meanwhile, Olivia was called up and trained to become an auxiliary nurse, working in St Raphael’s Hospital in Edinburgh.
After the war, she went to work in Domenico’s ice cream shop and café, The Tiffin, in Easter Road, which also supplied pies and Bovril to Hibs. It was there she first met her future husband, Carlo Contini.
After marrying Olivia in 1952, Carlo joined Valvona and Crolla, then run by his brother-in-law, Vittorio. The couple had two sons and Olivia became a housewife, working in Valvona and Crolla on a Saturday.
In the late 1970s, she went into business for herself with Carlo, opening a bed and breakfast hotel which she ran until 1985.
Later, she joined the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service and was involved in meals on wheels with her sister, Gloria. She was also involved in a variety of other charity activities over the years.
A great cook and baker, she maintained the traditions of her own mother’s cooking from the mountains and those of the Neapolitan cuisine learned from her mother-in-law, whom she had visited during her honeymoon. On that occasion, eager to demonstrate her cooking skills and ability to look after her new husband, she offered to make fresh pasta. She was met with a look of horror and told that they no longer made pasta at home.
Commercially produced dried pasta had become widely available and to have to make your own signified poverty – the neighbours would think they could not afford to buy it. While expert at producing traditional fare, she was also experimental in the kitchen and had a vast library of recipe books.
She and her husband, who predeceased her on the same date, July 8, seven years ago, had a large social circle of cousins and friends in the Italian communities of Edinburgh and Glasgow.
A spiritual woman who was deeply proud of family and her faith, she lived her entire life within the parish of St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral, where her requiem mass was held.
She is survived by sons Philip and Victor, daughters-in-law Mary and Carina, grandchildren Francesca, Olivia, Orlando, Carla and Arianna, great-grandchildren Alfonso and Florence and her sister, Gloria.