A Great Father and His Remarkable Daughter

I was very sorry to learn of the death of Augusto Odone, the father of my friend, Cristina. A celebrated Italian economist, he prolonged the life of his gravely ill son, Lorenzo, by developing a medicine after the young boy had been robbed of his faculties by a devastating progressive degenerative disorder known as ALD.

The Odone’s story was so remarkable that it touched the heart of all those who read it and both Augusto and his wife, Michaela, became famous for their incredible efforts to keep their son alive. It was subsequently made into a Hollywood film, Lorenzo’s Oil, in 1992, starring Susan Sarandon and Nick Nolte as the parents.

At the time the film was made Lorenzo was fourteen. A little over eight years earlier, when he was five, his school reports had highlighted the fact that his attention span was becoming poor. A once bright, precocious child, he had been having violent tantrums, suffering hearing loss and experiencing problems with balance and coordination. By January 1985, he could neither speak nor respond in any way, his mother recalled. His sight was impaired and he could not move as much as a finger. He was incontinent; he could not swallow, and he had been fitted with a nasogastric tube.

Lorenzo miraculously survived until he died of pneumonia in 2008 one day after his thirtieth birthday, having outlived his mother who died eight years earlier.

I had the great privilege of meeting Augusto when Cristina introduced me to him at the premiere of the film in London. I could not help being bowled over by his unsurpassable dedication to keeping his son alive, no matter what the cost and self-sacrifice such a task entailed. Cristina is blessed to have had a father whose faith was rock solid and so supreme that it defied comprehension. In her hour of grief, her great consolation will always be his memory, towering above anyone else she has ever encountered.

For those who have not met Cristina, here is what I wrote about her in 1998 in an article for the Daily Express:

Greatly enjoyed Monday evening when I was invited to the Ivy for cocktails. The occasion marked the publication of Cristina Odone’s second novel, A Perfect Wife, which promises to be a polished successor to The Shrine.

Her first novel was full of passion, dealing intelligently with sex and religion. The sacred and the profane – a combination which has proved irresistible to many writers. Cristina Odone is well placed to write with conviction and authority on the theme. As a Roman Catholic with a strict convent education behind her, she struggles to live a disciplined life. But she is the first to admit that lust can exert a fearsome power, even on the devout. (The men who fall at her feet find it quite powerful too.)

From her Swedish mother and Italian father she has inherited that tantalizing mix of northern poise and Mediterranean ardour. It is the southern heat which prevails, however. She exudes a deep sensuality and flirtatiousness, and has always said that she would be a very bad girl were it not for her faith. Just the sort of statement which is guaranteed to feed a man’s fantasies. Her vocabulary is enchantingly biblical – sin, temptation, evil, grace, are all regulars.

I have always felt a natural sympathy with Cristina Odone. We are both Catholics, highly volatile, both conscious of the challenge of the faith. I also attended a convent where one learnt the seductive power of religion. Indeed, there’s nothing quite like being taught by nuns to put the hormones into overdrive. There is such emphasis on the sinfulness of everyone, the carnality of the world.

Until she resigned last year, Cristina edited the Catholic Herald, a previously moribund organ that she transformed into a smart read. During her reign she fanned the flames of fundamentalist fury against trendy liberals in the Catholic Church… Some might say that Cristina gives Catholicism a bad name. Not me; I think she is its very lifeblood. At thirty-seven, she is still searching for the man of her dreams. The lucky devil who marries her will gain a wonderful wife and excellent breeding potential.

A few years ago she found the man of her dreams, married him, and created three children. God bless her.

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