Paolo Becker, 1952-2014 : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Paolo Becker, 1952-2014


Paolo Becker has passed on. Just last August he found out that he was suffering with cancer, but he asked that I not share the information. Paolo was a private man and he did not wish for an outpouring from those who knew him or knew of him. This was typical of the man I had known and worked with for more than 30 years.
I first met Paolo in the spring of 1981. I was browsing the goods in a pipe shop in Rome (Italy) when Paolo’s father, Fritz Becker, approached me to let me know that he and his son made pipes. When Fritz and I entered that workshop, Paolo was there. I remember a young man, very thin, with lots of curly hair. We didn’t speak on that occasion, for Paolo knew no English at the time, and I knew no Italian.
Over the years I found that Paolo was a very complex guy and a late bloomer. He first trained as an electrician but did not care for that trade. He then worked with his father making pipes, but I’m not at all sure he liked that very much either, although we never discussed it at the time. After his father died, Paolo carried on, but he had an ambition to open his own pipe shop. And so he did, with a partner. During the 10-year period Paolo had the shop he made few pipes and, after a period of years, he realized that keeping shop did not suit him. Still, that was a very important period for him, as he acquired good language skills in English, French and Spanish. More important, he took in all the different styles of pipes that were sold in the shop—a critical formative experience for the man who would go on make his name as one of the world’s premier pipemakers.
After Paolo gave up his interest in the pipe shop, he returned to his workshop newly inspired. And those were the years of his most creative expressions, in styling, curing and the use of different woods. He was passionate about his work, and it showed in what he produced.
What can I say of Paolo Becker, other than that he was a genuinely good person? He was quiet but witty, self-deprecating with that shy smile that I remember so well. He was honorable, both in business and in his personal life. He was truly a gentle man, and was loved by many. I shall miss him terribly.
—David Field

When Paolo Becker passed away, the world lost not only a great artisan but an equally lovely soul. Paolo was a warm, gentle, quiet and gracious man. Over the 23 years of our friendship, I passed a lot of time with him in his workshop and when he was working with Giorgio Musico at the Becker and Musico pipe shop in Rome. I always experienced a wonderful peacefulness with him, even in the moments when few words—either in English or Italian—passed between us while we enjoyed our pipes together. His personality was marked by a constant calmness and equanimity. Even as his reputation flourished globally, he remained wonderfully Paolo. His clothes were always simple, his pants always covered with the unmistakable marks of a pipemaker (traces of color stains destined for briar, tobacco ashes), and I will always remember the hole in the top of his sneaker, which never fazed him. (When I pointed out the hole to him, he just smiled and gently shrugged his shoulders.) When I visited, we ate together primarily at simple local places that served home-cooked hearty fare and where he was always well-known and well-liked—not because he was a premier pipemaker and artisan, but because he was Paolo.
From when I was a poor student and he helped sell me my first pipe to when I became a professional and a father, Paolo bore witness to my journey. In 2011, I was married in Rome. At the last minute, Paolo had a family emergency and had to decline the invitation. The wedding was intimate, and as the ceremony concluded and my new wife and I emerged from the wedding hall encircled by a small group of family and friends, Paolo revealed himself from behind a column. He had made sure to attend the ceremony so that he would not miss that moment, but he did so in his own quiet, discreet way. He embraced me warmly and smiled at us broadly, imparting his love and joy for us through his wordless but evocative gestures that made him “Paolo.”
I’ll never forget my hours with Paolo—pipemaker, dear friend, and “uncle” (he helped feed my son his first plate of spaghetti), and I will always remember him in every puff of my pipes.
—John Semel

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Category: obituary, Pipe Articles, Spring 2015

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