A POPULAR ice cream man who who served cold treats to the people of Newport for almost 40 years has died.

Giuseppe Pontis, known to many as Tonibell, first started driving an ice cream van around Newport in 1979, and retired in 2016, aged 85. He died last month aged 86.

Born in 1931 on the Italian island of Sardinia, in 1962 Mr Pontis and his wife Luiga moved to Caldey Island off the coast of Pembrokeshire, where he picked watercress and cooked for the monks living on the island, before moving to Cardiff two years later.

The couple had three children, Mimma, Silvanna and Andrea, while Mr Pontis worked as head waiter at the Sandringham Hotel and at the Double Diamond club in Caerphilly - where he met stars including Sir Tom Jones, Louis Armstrong and The Two Ronnies - although daughter-in-law Kath Sakke said he wasn't too impressed by the veteran comedians and "didn’t have much good to say about them".

He bought his first ice cream van in 1972 while also running kiosks in Cefn Onn Park and Penarth Pier, as well as a delicatessen selling continental food on Cardiff's City Road, and first started working in Newport around 1979, where he was most commonly seen in Bettws, outside Basslaeg school, in Pill and at Pill Carnival and, most recently, outside Argos in Maesglas with his friend David.

Ms Sakke said her father-in-law - known to family and friends as Joe - "absolutely loved selling ice-cream".

"It was his life and passion and he loved the people of Newport," she said.

"Joe was a proud man. He was a family man and loved his family to be around him whilst loving his own space at the same time.

"He was very knowledgeable.

"He loved Wales and would tell him family 'the Welsh are the best people' and 'we live in the best country'.

"He was a unique character who would tell you how it is.

"He was a very religious, Catholic man who would pray every night - although he did have a terrible potty mouth."

She added Mr Pontis had suffered a stroke after falling in his garden in spring 2017, and later had three small heart attacks and three boats of pneumonia, but pulled through every time.

"The man was an ox and he certainly made an impression on everyone he met," she said.

But the fourth time he contracted pneumonia proved to be the last, and he died on Friday, September 14.

His funeral was held at St Peter's Church in Cardiff on Tuesday, October 2, last week, before he was buried at Thornhill Cemetery.

Ms Sakke said the service was "lovely". "The priest who led the service had lived in Rome and so did some of it in Italian," she said. "That was very good for the Italians who were there."