A former prominent Newport Tory councillor died three years ago of hypothermia in Nottingham.
Mr Ztan Zmith of Nottingham is researching an autobiography of Alwyn Rees who changed his name by deed poll to the 'Viscount' Alwyn John Eugene Manso-Reesare di Villa. A Nottingham paper carried the story below.
I spoke today to Mr Zmith and told him that most of his Newport acquaintences remember Alwyn Rees is less than heroic terms.
The Newport Conservatives gained a rare majority on Newport Council in 1968 and made the 'Viscount di Villa' as Chairman of the powerful Education Committee. He revelled in his adopted title and frequently promised friends and visitors a few crates of champagne from his estates in France. None ever arrived. He left Newport with a strong impression that he had a Walter Mitty personalty given to irrational flights of fancy. Mr Smith had not heard that Alwyn Rees had been Chairman of Newport Education Committee. Very odd as this was probably the main achievement of his life. That information does not appear on any of his obituaries. He died in wretched circumstances, perhaps living his illusions until his final moments.
Since moving from Newport, he dropped the title 'Viscount' and acquired an OBE. The local tributes indicated he worked hard for the local community.
Mr Zmith said, "All the books that he owned contained a pasted label inside the front cover displaying a coat of arms and sporting the inscription 'Eugene Vicomte di Villa'.
"Eugene has no known family. He married three times and all his wives are dead. His son died in a plane crash in the 1950s.
"When Eugene died more than three years ago Selston Parish Council had to arrange the funeral. His grave in Underwood Churchyard has been grassed over and is marked with a simple wooden cross bearing a hand written inscription."
I would be grateful to hear recollections of his time in Newport that I will pass on to Mr Zmith.
A campaign has been launched to ensure that a beloved local author and parish councillor, who once defied the Nazis as a brave child, is not forgotten.
Eugene Di Villa OBE represented Underwood on Selston Parish Council from 1981 until his death in 2010 and was a well-loved community figure who also stood for election to Ashfield District Council.
He was buried in St Michael’s churchyard in Underwood with a plain, hand-written wooden cross to mark his grave as being paid for by Underwood Parish Cuncil.
But the plot is now grassed over and the cross is beginning to rot away. Now his friends are determined not to let him be forgotten and are trying to raise money to pay for a fitting stone headstone.
Especially as Mr Di Villa had led an extraordinary life.
The most astonishing episode was when, at just ten years old, the village in France where Eugene lived with his family was invaded by Nazis.
They demanded to know where his father was as he was fighting with the French Resistance.
Eugene and his older brother refused to betray their father so the Nazis drove an armoured car at them. His brother was killed and Eugene’s leg was ripped off.
Friend and fellow councillor Andrew Fell described Eugene as ‘a gentleman who was liked by everyone on the parish council’.
He told the Advertiser: “Eugene was a wonderful man. Nothing was ever too much trouble and he was so generous.
“If anything was going on in the village he would be the first one there.
“He went through a lot and it is important that his memory doesn’t die with him.”
During his time as a councillor he helped to established a doctors’ surgery in Underwood and played a part in saving the St Michael’s Church clock in Underwood, which was donated in 1919 to commemorate WW1, from falling into disrepair.
However, he was a very private man who rarely spoke about his life, so it came as a shock to his friends when it was revealed at his funeral that he had changed his name by deed poll from Alwyn John Rees to Eugene di Villa in 1959.
Local author Stan Smith, aka Ztan Zmith, has researched the councillor’s life and written a book entitled ‘Eugene di Villa’ which reveals history of the enigmatic man as part of the fundraising effort for a gravestone.
He said: “The ladies clearing up the graveyard were so upset that the only grave in the whole churchyard without a proper headstone was his.
“We just want to raise enough to pay for a simple headstone with his name and and an inscription ‘A friend to Underwood’.”
‘Eugene di Villa’ is available from Underwood Post Office for £2, call Ztan on 01773 783009 or to donate e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.