Love Affair with the Community: Profile of Italo Tiezzi
courtesy of Italo Tiezzi
the end of my interview with Mr. Italo Tiezzi, the two of us ponder
over the title of a film. Tiezzi phones up a good friend of his who
happily assists us in determining the title of the film in question.
The Emperor’s Club, that’s the one. I remark
to Tiezzi a crucial line from the film: “Great ambition and
conquest without contribution is without significance.”
Tiezzi developed an interest in the arts at a young age. Italo
(back row, farthest left) participating in the Italian community
tribute to Frank Sinatra.
Tiezzi has definitely contributed to his community. In a time and
society where the concept of community is sometimes undervalued, it
is refreshing to meet a man like Tiezzi. At sixty-nine years old he
has proven that his community is fundamentally his life.
and raised in Ottawa, Tiezzi’s extensive and intriguing past
has molded him into a truly inspiring individual. As a young boy growing
up in the city, Tiezzi was a child of the arts, a student of drama
and a fan of opera. He became involved early on in the ever-developing
Italian community. Tiezzi was instigated by his father to volunteer
a hearty laugh Tiezzi remarks, “I didn’t play baseball
with my father, but I belonged to every club that he belonged to.”
Both of Tiezzi’s parents were active in the community and owned
a grocery store/post office type establishment. It was here that Tiezzi,
his brother Silvio, his mother Rose and father Gino prepared landed
immigrants for citizenship status. This program helped two thousand
Italian immigrants receive Canadian citizenship. The program also
resulted in Gino Tiezzi being awarded with the last commemorative
medal on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the Accession of
Her Majesty the Queen to the Throne. And, finally, the program marked
the beginning of Italo’s many contributions.
graduate of St. Patrick’s College and the University of Toronto,
Tiezzi ventured into a teaching career at the Ottawa Technical High
School where he taught history, geography, Italian, French and English.
A decade later, Tiezzi was appointed head of the Modern Languages
Department. Tiezzi recollects originally wanting to study law as a
young man and credits this aspiration to a stay in Italy.
often breaks into smiles as he remembers his thirty years of teaching.
At one point he holds up a photograph of himself with a group of
his students who had each won various academic awards. From his
beaming smile one might assume that Tiezzi’s students were
like his surrogate children, and in fact Tiezzi classifies his students
as an extension of his family. He has seen many of them grow and
succeed. He has attended some of their weddings and, sadly, some
of their funerals. Even today Tiezzi continues to receive cards
and letters from former students.
a teaching career that spanned from 1959 to 1988, Tiezzi dedicated
his time and effort to his school. He was a student council advisor
for seven years, head of the school library, coach of several sports
teams, and an advisor for the debate clubs and yearbook publications.
Tiezzi’s community and volunteer work throughout this time
was incredibly profound. Tiezzi helped found the Dante Alighieri
Society of Ottawa in 1960, of which he later became vice-president
and remains a member today. He was the chairman of the Third Languages
Committee of Modern Languages Subject Council. He also coordinated
the student-exchange program for Ontario-Italy. He was a founder
of the Ottawa Junior Humane Society, a member of the Ottawa University
Heart Institute Campaign Committee, director of the Kidney Foundation
of Canada and a life member of Opera Lyra Ottawa. Tiezzi was also
president of The Italian Business and Professional Men’s Association
of Ottawa and director of Ital-Canada Italian Week in Ottawa.
devout Catholic, Tiezzi was president of the Catholic Youth Organization
at St. Anthony’s
Parish in the early fifties and almost half a century later Tiezzi
continued his devotion to St.
Anthony’s as director of the Parish Council.
is no doubt a man of conviction – he proudly acknowledges his
political standpoint as a liberal. From 1951 to 1953 he was president
of the Young Liberals Association for Ottawa West and from 1965 to
1972 he was president of the Ottawa Centre Provincial Liberal Association.
Tiezzi has met and worked with various political figures, notably,
Mr. Pierre Trudeau, who he coached in Italian for certain speeches.
Despite even meeting a celebrity like “ol’ blue eyes,”
Mr. Frank Sinatra himself, Tiezzi treasures his experience in Italy
the most as he fondly recollects having met Padre Pio in 1957, when
he attended the Pope’s canonization.
a high school teacher for 30 years, Italo Tiezzi had the pleasure
of teaching many gifted students.
the mid-eighties Tiezzi served as president of the National Congress
of Italian-Canadians for Eastern Ontario and the Outaouais, where
he represented thirty thousand Italian-Canadians. He was also a member
of the Board of Directors of the Ottawa Congress Centre and a member
of Carleton University’s Board of Governors.
achievements have not gone without recognition. In 1986 Tiezzi received
the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Culture Volunteer Service
Award. In 1993 he was honored with the Canada 125 medal for his
“key roles in political and multicultural organizations and
as an educator who contributed greatly in his field.” As recently
as 1999, Tiezzi was given the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and
Culture Volunteer Service Award. Tiezzi’s list of awards and
achievements are lengthy and impressive, but he remains modest.
He notes that he has always stayed in the community. Tiezzi has
an undisputed love for Ottawa and the Italian-Canadian community.
He feels enriched from this city and is pleased to see the success
and growth that the Italian community has achieved.
the first high school teacher of Italian origin in Ottawa, Tiezzi
believes that the Italian community is more educated now than ever
before and commends this in part to parents encouraging their children
and students willingness to put forth the effort. Tiezzi reflects
on a time when Italian groups met in the basements of churches and
banquet halls, but today he sees Italian groups meeting anywhere
and everywhere, establishing themselves as a unique and capable
society that makes up a significant part of the city.
asked about how others can become involved in the community, Tiezzi
replies:“If you’re going to belong to society, you have
to take part – it is up to the individual to choose how they
envisions a community with a lot of variety and very little conflict.
As an individual, Italo Tiezzi has proven that one man can achieve
great things and impact the community in a positive manner. With
a thoughtful expression he states, “I don’t have all
the answers, no one does. One must keep searching for the answers,
for the truth.”
is essentially a lesson we could learn from Tiezzi’s life
thus far: every individual is on a journey, a journey that is made
whole by involvement and contribution. Tiezzi has given so much
to this community; his lifelong efforts make him an unsung hero,
not only to the Italian community but for the entire country.
I sit across from this spirited and inspiring man, I reflect once
more on that line from The Emperor’s Club: “Great
ambition and conquest without contribution is without significance.”
It is only upon our departure that I remember the rest of that line,
“What will your contribution be?”
article was originally published in the January 2003 issue of
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