Interviewing Legend Claude Mario Victor Pensa by Irene Gargantini Strybosch
Interviewer’s preamble. As an immigrant and a writer I have a keen interest in gathering information on how first generation Canadians manage/d to tread between the culture they absorb/ed at home and the customs of the society in which they are/were called to live.
The Pensa Family is a success story.
Enrichetta Gianotti and Filippo Pensa, Claude’s parents, came to Canada separately around 1910, when Italy, called the sick man of Europe, was in a depression. Enrichetta was 20 (came with a sister) while Filippo was only in his early teens. The two sisters wanted to make a bit of money and return to Italy as soon as that goal was achieved. It didn’t work out that way—the outbreak of World War I (1914) probably being one of the reasons Enrichetta stayed in Canada and long enough to marry Filippo. A girl, Mary, brought cheers to their family; unfortunately the infant suffered a bad fall and succumbed to an ensuing infection. The Pensa family then adopted Florence, a 7-year girl from the Mount St. Joseph orphanage in London. She stayed with the family even when two boys and a girl came along.
Filippo, who had adapted well to the new country, started a successful cigar factory, while Enrichetta worked for a seamstress specializing in fur coats. Filippo was a sport man, playing curling in the winter. Of very sociable nature, he became president of the Marconi Club and ran for London City Council. Their own three children went to college; the oldest became an economist, the young woman a teacher and the youngest, Claude, a lawyer.
When the father, Filippo, retired, he had a hotel in Port Stanley; he hadn’t miss a thing of the Italian culture; on the contrary, the mother, Enrichetta, spoke with nostalgia of her country of origin. On the total, she took three trips to Italy and upon her return she would tell everybody how lovely things over there were. It was in this formative two-culture environment that Claude Mario Victor grew up. In 1958 he married Elaine Wettlaufer and the couple was blessed with four children: Christine Anne, Victoria Marie, Marc Anthony, and Jonathan Pierre.
Claude’s career and accomplishments are countless. Below I’ll mention a few. In 1962 he formed the law firm Giffen Pensa; in 1999 the Harrison Pensa (which as per today comprises 55 lawyers); from 1991 to 1993 he was Chair of Western’s Board of Governors; in 2003, together with his wife Elaine, he founded the London Lawyers Feed the Hungry, which as per today has raised over half a million dollars. In 1991, Western conferred him the degree of Doctor of Law (Honoris Causa) and an honorary diploma from Fanshawe College is in the making at the time of this interview. Claude is in the process of writing a book about his parents and the extraordinary adventure they lived when, very young, they crossed the Atlantic. From what I gather, it wasn’t smooth sailing, but it was surely a great landing.
What impressed me most of Claude, together with his positive attitude in general, was what he said about growing up in a two-culture environment: it was a gift.