Giovanna Panico

Giovanna Panico

Lifetime Contribution

Ms. Giovanna Panico was a dedicated professor, tireless volunteer, and community icon. Her unrivaled passion for the Italian language and culture formed the crux of a powerful community engagement that has positively impacted the lives of tens of thousands of citizens within Ottawa’s Italian-Canadian Community and inspired a lasting legacy for future generations.

Born in 1941 in Ripabottoni, Molise, Italy, Giovanna Panico graduated from the Liceo Statale, Mario Pagano. In the spring of 1962, Giovanna Panico immigrated to Canada with her mother and sister to reunite with family and, in the fall of that year, Ms. Panico moved to Ottawa to pursue her studies at the University of Ottawa. There she obtained a Masters (1965) and a Ph.D. (1979) in Latin Language and Literature.

In 1965, in tandem with her studies, Prof. Panico initiated her career as a Teaching Assistant of Classical Studies, teaching Latin and Literature at the University of Ottawa (formerly the Collège Bruyère). In 1971, she began as a Sessional Lecturer and then as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Italian at Carleton University where she focused her teaching mainly on Italian Studies.  She was also Chair of Carleton’s Italian Department from 1986 to 1989 and from 1993 to 1996. In 2006, she retired from her full-time teaching position at Carleton University but continued to teach on a contractual basis.

During her teaching career, she co-organized women’s outreach programs sponsored by the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OCISO), as well as various workshops for Italian-Canadian women. She also participated as a juror in the Ottawa Sun Italian Week Scholarships; as a member of the LIUNA Scholarship Review Committee; and for 10 years, as the Coordinator of “Parolissima” – a National Literary Contest in conjunction with the Italian Week of Ottawa and local Italian language schools.

In 1982, Professor Panico had the foresight to see television programming as a platform filled with opportunities for engaging, entertaining, informing and uniting the community while, at the same time, inspiring younger generations in maintaining their Italian culture and language. Her commitment blazed the way for Tele-30 (Ottawa’s Italian Community TV Program on Rogers Network) and for the next 34 years, Tele-30 became her driving force. She nurtured it, working endless hours in developing program ideas, scheduling camera interviews, and coordinating volunteers. In addition, she often spent numerous hours from late evenings to early mornings arduously editing tape for each program and often producing the final version just hours before it went on air.

Though her official title was Producer of Tele-30, Prof. Panico adopted many roles including editor and fundraiser as she coordinated all of the activities and elements needed for each program. Under her direction, Tele-30 continued to grow, expanding from a 30-minute per month program to two 60-minute weekly programs with two additional repeats every week for a total of four 60-minute shows each week. However, expanding the amount of air time required an increased commitment and Professor Panico’s determination and dedication resulted in augmenting her volunteer base while doubling and sometimes tripling her efforts.

In addition to her time, she offered her home as “Tele-30 Headquarters” where she held regular meetings with volunteers, organized interviews, coordinated with camera operators, booked Rogers studio time for formal interviews, planned for coverage of local community events, and many other elements needed for producing the shows. Her home was open 24/7 and the quality of the shows was a reflection of her profound devotion to providing optimum segments that reflected the best of the Italian-Canadian Community. What is equally amazing was her ability to achieve this on a shoe-string budget and it was not uncommon for her to often contribute funds personally to ensure Tele-30’s longevity.

Professor Panico’s relentless commitment to the community however extended to other local projects and initiatives. Along with Prof. Leonardo Sbrocchi, she co-edited the book, L’insegnamento dell’italiano alle soglie del 2000 (Ottawa Legas, 2000).  She also published and presented several articles and papers on Contemporary Italian Language.  Her research interests included classical tradition in the works of Middle Ages and Renaissance Italian writers, Italian women writers, neologisms, and Anglicisms in the Italian language. While teaching full-time at Carleton University in the late ’80s, Professor Panico also initiated a weekly Italian Radio Program on Sundays at the University Campus (CKCU) to engage students studying Italian.

Professor Panico was a familiar face at Villa Marconi Long-Term Care Centre. Every month, for a number of years, she organized and participated in “APERTAMENTE”— a forum for discussion on various topics that attracted about 20 participants consisting of scholars and leaders from the community. She was also instrumental in leading a successful project called “Pomeriggio regionale” that gave members of the community an opportunity to experience the various regions of Italy through its foods, traditions, and histories. Its purpose was to unite the community by bringing together members of the various local associations (representative of the different regions of Italy) in a spirit of education, experience, and celebration. Giovanna Panico was most dedicated to the Ottawa Women’s Filo Organization, nominating many women who had contributed in diverse ways to the local Italian-Canadian Community.

In recognition of her commitment, Professor Panico was the recipient of the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal (1992), the Ontario Volunteer Service Award (2000), the City of Ottawa Civic Appreciation Award (2002), the Rosa Tiezzi Filo’ Award (honouring women for their contribution to the community) (2006), and the Governor General of Canada – Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers (2018). In 2009, she was awarded a knighthood, Cavaliere Ordine al merito della Repubblica Italiana, from the President of Italy.

Giovanna Panico was a visionary and a pillar of Ottawa’s Italian-Canadian Community yet throughout her vast accomplishments she remained humble, often shunning the limelight. She was intelligent, altruistic, and possessing a profound sense of purpose, and these qualities, along with her tenacious devotion to her students and to her beloved Italian-Canadian community, gained her the respect and adoration of an entire community.