When Does Life Begin?

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith


I have a good friend named Tony Gagliano. Tony is a modest and extremely successful business person. He gives about twenty per cent of his time to charitable and community causes and was a founding force behind Luminato, the hugely successful Toronto Arts Festival. I love Tony, but this blog isn’t about him, he only gets an honourable mention because that’s how I came to know about his father, Gaetano.

Gaetano, who died recently at 98, was an Italian immigrant who came to Canada at 38 years old with nothing (other than a wife and four kids) and started laying track for CP rail with his brother. Slowly, out of his basement, Gaetano built a printing business and eventually created — with the help of his kids, of course — the hugely successful St. Joseph’s Media, a multi-media conglomerate. With his wife, Giuseppina, this devout man also raised ten kids and gave ten per cent of what he earned to the church. But I want to be clear: this blog is not about ‘Gaetano the self-made immigrant’ either. Almost all of us are immigrants of a sort, and we all know that without people like Gaetano, there would be no Canada. That part of his life is inspiring, but it isn’t terribly unique.

The truth is, I never met Gaetano, and so perhaps even I don’t know what this blog is about. But let me tell you what Gaetano did AFTER all of that, because that’s what I think is so cool. Not when he was sixty-five, not when he was seventy-five, but …. sometime after that.

At eighty-five years of age, Gaetano picked up the phone and called a man he had never met — a certain Father Rosica — and invited him to a meeting. Rosica had just directed the World Youth Day Festival in Toronto, which had attracted 400,000 Catholic young people from around the world. At that meeting, Gaetano laid a CRTC broadcast licence before the priest and said “We watched what you did on World Youth Day. It’s been my dream to create a Catholic television network. We want you to do this”.

It’s fair to say that Rosica was more than mildly sceptical, but when he had a meeting not long after with Pope John Paul II to report on World Youth Day, he happened to mention the story of this old but very insistent man and his fairly detailed business plan for a television network for Catholics. “Do it!” cried the Pontiff, and after that, what choice did Rosica really have?

And so, Salt + Light Television hits the airwaves on July 1, 2003 with a single feed from the Vatican. Today, it is available to more than 2.5 million viewers across Canada, with dozens of in-house programs and documentaries in English, French, Italian, Mandarin and Cantonese, and is streamed online to audiences worldwide. There’s also a magazine and a radio station, all employing a staff of 34 in Toronto and Montreal offices.

Listen, I’m not a spiritual guy, and this is certainly not a religious blog. But I read that Gaetano said that the creation of Salt + Light Television was the most important thing he accomplished in his life, and he didn’t even get started on it until he was eighty-five. So: When do you stop searching for — and working toward — meaning in your life?

It’s a complex issue, I think. I’m sixty-one, and I’m rightfully being pressed hard on succession planning at my company. Is it time to quit? I don’t really want to retire, but I also understand that if we baby boomers don’t get out of the way, how will my kids and your kids ever get ahead? We need to be fair, right? Perhaps it’s not all about us.

But the search for meaning and the desire to contribute never end, and that’s what I love about this story. Gaetano had lived a complete life, he built a strong family, he built a strong company from nothing, and he turned that company over to his kids (who made it greater). And then, at eighty-five, he began the most important work of his life.

That’s it. Have a great life, and thanks for reading.