Gualtiero Barilla

Parma 9 August 1881 – 17 May 1919

Gualtiero Barilla was born in Parma on 9 August 1881, penultimate of the five children of Pietro and Giovanna Adorni. Called to a religious vocation, rather than working in the Company, he did a normal course of higher studies in a seminary and, for a brief time, at the Foreign Missions Institute, with the intention of going to China to work as a missionary. He enrolled in the conscription lists on 18 July 1901 but benefited from a number of deferments precisely because he was a pupil at the Institute.

At the time, as his matriculation card reveals, he was 1.72 m tall, with a brown complexion and brown hair and eyes. However, his family put pressure on him to abandon his dream of becoming a missionary and instead devote himself to the Company alongside his elder brother Riccardo.

However, Gualtiero, unlike his brother, who was exonerated on health grounds, had to leave to do his military service on 31 December 1902, an absence that effectively lasted for almost four years. At first he was enrolled as a pupil sergeant in the 43rd Infantry Regiment; promoted corporal on 30 June 1903 and sergeant on 31 December 1903; a sharpshooter (as a civilian he had been a member of the National Target Shooting team), he moved to the 56th Infantry Regiment on 5 January 1904; discharged on 27 November 1906; enrolled in the Mobile Army on 15 June 1910. He was called up several times, also during the Great War, but his exemption was always deferred and in fact he no longer wore the uniform of the Italian army.

With the return of Gualtiero to the bosom of the family, a sort of division of labor between the former and Riccardo was achieved: in particular, Gualtiero was entrusted with the job of procuring business, whilst Riccardo and his sisters worked in the workshop.

First on a bicycle and then on a motorbike, Gualtiero travelled through the city, the province of Parma and then through other provinces and regions too, constantly expanding the Company’s turnover. Gualtiero was undoubtedly the one of the two brothers and business partners (the three sisters soon ceased to be involved in industrial activities) who from the outset put his mark on the Company. “A megalomaniac”, as Pietro junior would later describe him, who, however, was only able to know him directly as a child; a megalomaniac in a positive sense though, and perhaps he meant that he was capable of taking risks and assuming responsibilities: a real entrepreneur, in other words. Although he had renounced his missionary vocation, he maintained a civil and cordial relationship with the religious world. He was therefore well known and well integrated in the Catholic circles in the city, since (in 1907) the bishop Mons. Guido Maria Conforti had returned to Parma to head the diocese.

The latter was the founder of the Foreign Missions Institute, but above all he was a person who was extremely willing to accommodate the social expectations of the population and to combat with the weapon of commitment and direct action, rather than with simple and fruitless anathemas, the widespread political trends opposed to the church and to religion, partly by relying on the work of laymen. Gualtiero was responsible for the Company’s policy of being particularly open to the outside world and to social issues, supplementing the work done by the public institutions. This policy became evident during the Great War, when Barilla was always in the front row in the initiatives aimed at supporting and assisting soldiers and their families. Furthermore, in the autumn of 1918, on the reconstitution of the Public Assistance with the return from the front of numerous members, the Barilla brothers were among the first to make a contribution, together with Local Authorities and private citizens, to this association, which recruited volunteers in the most popular districts of the city. It was always Gualtiero, in the difficult years of the bitter trade union struggles that preceded and followed the Great War, who held talks with the workers’ representatives and with the city Authorities, warding off, as far as was possible, the exacerbation of conflicts, and inaugurating a paternalistic approach to the debate between corporate management and the workers, intended to improve the sense of belonging of each employee to the company and to the civic community.

He was also responsible for the Company’s advertising image, created by using the best of what the city had to offer in terms of artists and lithographers, and Parma did in fact boast an excellent tradition in this regard and could count on excellent schools, such as the long-established Academy of Fine Arts. Of course Riccardo played a full part in all these initiatives and on Gualtiero’s premature death, he was able to develop these projects, gradually expanding the Company’s horizons, without interruption or abrupt changes of style. Gualtiero, who had not married and had no direct heirs, died of typhoid, probably contracted during a business trip to Naples, when he was less than 38 years of age, on 17 May 1919. On that occasion it was possible to measure the esteem he enjoyed: his family did in fact receive words of sincere condolence not only from the business and Catholic circles to which Gualtiero belonged, but also – and account should be taken of the climate at the time, namely the ‘hot’ months of the immediate post-war period – from the trade-unions and even from the most extremist political world.

Ubaldo Delsante


Sources and Bibliography

Archivio di Stato di Piacenza, matriculation card of Gualtiero Barilla, matr. 8933, class of 1881.
Obituaries of Gualtiero Barilla and charitable donations in his honour in GP 1919, 17 May, p. 3; 18 May, pp.2-3; 19 May, pp. 2-3; 20 May, pp. 2-3; 21 May, pp. 2-3; 16 and 18 June (for the celebration of the mass on the 13th day after his death in the church of San Michele); VN 1919, 24 May, p. 3; 14 June, p. 3; 21 June, p. 3; “La Giovane Montagna” 1919, 18 May, p. 2; “L’Idea” 1919, 24 May, p. 3; “L’Internazionale” 1919, 31 May, p. 4; ASB, O, Gualtiero Barilla folder.
GIUFFREDI Massimo, MINARDI Marco, GAITA Marco, Operai della buona causa. Storia dell’Assistenza Pubblica di Parma. Parma, Step, 1992, p. 95.
TEODORI Franco (edited by), Arcivescovo Conforti. III. Da Ravenna alla città della croce. Vatican City, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994, pp. 72, 535.