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Italo Tiezzi





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A Love Affair with the Community: Profile of Italo Tiezzi

By Nicholas Frate

Photos courtesy of Italo Tiezzi

Towards 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.”

Italo 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.

Italo 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.

Born 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 his efforts.

With 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.

As a 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.

Tiezzi 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.

In 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.

As a 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.

Tiezzi 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.  

As a high school teacher for 30 years, Italo Tiezzi had the pleasure of teaching many gifted students.

In 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.

Tiezzi’s 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.

As 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.

When 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 get involved.”

Tiezzi 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.”

This 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.

As 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?”

This article was originally published in the January 2003 issue of Il Postino.


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