Written by Shirley Roberts
Published in the Majorca Daily Bulletin
Sunday 14th February 2016
Photographs by Rachel Fox
Who are the Movers and Shaker of Soller and who are the weavers of dreams? My pleasure this week was to spend time with the man who wears both crowns in our community. Tolo Oliver is a man for whom the expression ‘If you love what you are doing you will never work a day in your life’ was invented. He has a sign in his office which says that he invented the 25-hour day and the longer I spent with him the more I believed it. It’s Tolo’s birthday today, a Valentines day baby born 65 years ago.
His parents were poor and came from Consell to Soller 70 years ago to work. At that time Soller was seen as rich and prosperous with plenty of work for those that wanted it. This was the time when 14 factories were working 24 hours a day, exports to France and the rest of Europe were thriving and Soller was the ‘Island within an Island’ in Majorca. Much of the rest of the island was struggling and Soller became a magnet for people who had the courage to leave their tight knit communities in search of work. Tolo’s parents worked their way out of poverty and held down two jobs a day each to make progress. They eventually acquired the building which still, to this day houses the family tobacconist and lottery shop as their home. The ground floor was a grocery store, smoke shop and lottery outlet specialising in the Spanish football lotteries. The rest of the house was their home. Work and home blended into one as the shop opened seven days a week from 7 am to 9 pm. The factory workers on their way to and from the three shifts a day being worked there were their biggest customers. Tolo Oliver was born in an upstairs room in this house and lived his babyhood and childhood in the shop with his parents and the larger community of Soller. Tolo learned that life was work from an early age and knew that employment and effort were the motivators that kept his parents going.
He spent his school years at the Convent School in Soller and helped in the shop when he wasn’t at school. His parents had aspirations for their son and sent him as a teenager to Louis Vivres school in Palma and then to Mount Zion College to study Tourism and Hotel Management. Tolo had already developed the affinity with Soller which remains his trademark. Even then he knew that even if studies and Military Service had to be performed in Palma that he still had the choice to sleep in Soller every night. That is exactly what he did and travelled over the mountain on his scooter twice or four times a day for about three years. Soller and the Valley life was in his heart and it was the only place he wanted to be. As his tourism studies progressed he worked on the reception of the Atalya Club Hotel which occupied the place that the Jumeirah Hotel now sits on. In the 60’s this was cutting edge for the Port of Soller and Tollo did his shifts there with pride and pleasure. Studies in the morning, Atalya in the afternoon and then after most people went home he went from hotel to hotel selling cigarettes from the family tobacconist. Tolo, like his parents learned to exist on little sleep. They knew that to be ahead of the game required showing up earlier than the competition.
In 1981 Tolo married his Maria in the Convent Church in Soller. Maria is a Solleric through and through and loves her City and Soller life in the same way as Tolo. She took her place in the grocery/tobacconist shop and Tolo became a banker. For 25 years the Sa Nostra Bank had his work and local knowledge until 3 pm every day. Outside that he was to be found looking after his property investment portfolio or assisting Maria in the shop. At 5 pm every day Tolo would collect his two children from the Convent School in Soller that he himself attended as a child and take them on Soller outings. A walk with Dad after school and a little history lesson of all the fine things in our City was how they remembered their childhood.
As the 1990’s dawned in Soller the property explosion was reaching great heights. More and more people were discovering the Soller Valley and wanting a piece of it. His work in the bank advising on property deals and mortgages made him wonder if there wasn’t a business opportunity of his own that he was missing by giving his time and energy to the bank. In 1993 Tolo took a career break from the Sa Nostra and went back to school. This time to learn the laws of Real Estate and to qualify as a registered Estate Agent. A proud day dawned when Tolo said goodbye to the Soller banking world and set up his own Real Estate company in the back room of his Tobacconist shop. There were plenty who thought he was mad to give up a solid banking career but Tolo knew that there was an exciting, high energy role waiting for him in the lives of the thousands who were looking for property in the Soller Valley. The rest as they say is history…
EventuallyTolo reluctantly moved into his own offices out of the shop when his daughter completed her legal training and joined him in the business. The squashed back room wasn’t room enough for this growing success. Suffice it to say that he moved to the office next door and put a door between the shops so that they could wander in and out as they needed to. This family thrive on work and the loud interaction with each other. The shop has Mum and son working it and the Estate Agent has Father and daughter with the addition of another Tolo. He is not family but it helps that he has the same name. Tolo loves to do a deal and get a great outcome for his client. He thrives on this and gets involved with the people and understands their dreams and aspirations. He loves to bring everything to a good conclusion.
This motivation has taken in him into the charitable works of the City of Soller. He is the President of the Red Cross of Soller and works tirelessly for those in need in our community. He is on the board of the Circulo Sollerense which looks after the needs of the older community of Soller. He is the proud organiser of the Easter Parades in Soller and has the honour of being one of the 6 bearers of the candles that escort the Christ at Easter. This is a high honour and one that he is very proud of. In recent years Tolo has been elected to the Board of Administration for the Ferrocarril of Soller which runs the Railway, the Tram and Can Prunera Museum of Modern Art. This, for Tolo was something that he had dreamed of being part of. There is nothing more grounded in Soller than this organisation and to be a significant part of it was like receiving a knighthood. El Gas, the energy company of Soller has a similar story to tell and Tolo is a valued board member of that organisation too.
Tolo Oliver is a man who loves everything about his world. He is proud of the contribution he continues to make to it. He has no intention of retiring and constantly challenges himself and his family on to new heights. The changes of his Soller world over the past sixty years excite him and the explosion of culture in all its forms is his pleasure. You will always see Tolo at The Night of Art, concerts, exhibitions, lectures and every other significant event in this place. Tolo is a man who loves his family, loves his work, loves his life and is glad that his family relocated to Soller to escape poverty.
Many of us have our own Tolo story, me included. When we bought our house in Soller the cash lorry didn’t turn up to the bank on time for our transaction. So you’ve guessed it, it was Tolo that produced the cash for us to complete the transaction. He became our own personal banker for a few hours.
Tolo Oliver is one of a kind and what endears him most to me is that he is truly comfortable in his own Soller skin. He has proved that work and getting up early has worked for him and he enjoys each day. A true Solleric with an expansive heart completely comfortable in his own skin. How many of us can say that…?
Happy Birthday Tolo.