Many Montrealers know Marianna as a radio and television broadcaster. Her audiences feel that she is speaking directly to them as individuals – a rare and valuable commodity in that business. She has also been a successful businesswoman; a member of the Boards for the Museum of Civilization, Canada’s War Museum, The Montreal Port Authority; and a spokesperson for the Montreal Children’s Hospital and the capital campaign for Concordia University. Somehow she has been able to do all this while she and husband Domenic raise their two sons, Alessandro and Massimiliano.

“My father and mother went to work early, and I would have breakfast by myself, come home for lunch and watch the Flintstones while eating my sandwich – and then come home after school and do my homework. My mother would call me at lunch and after school to make sure I was safe.”

“We lived in St-Michel and all of my parents’ friends were Italian. They seldom went out socially – but when they did it was to visit their Italian friends. We lived completely in Italian.”

Marianna describes her first days at school. “I didn’t speak English and had just a little French that we’d picked up playing in the street. We wore name tags with our addresses on the back.

It was frightening – we couldn’t understand English – and I don’t think our teachers spoke much Italian!”

However, Marianna persevered and she became an excellent student.

“Our parents placed a very high value on education – recognizing that a good education would enable us to make a better life. And while our parents appreciated the importance of education – they hadn’t quite figured out how to give advice.” Marianna continues: “I remember asking my father for advice about what courses to take – he’d look at me in disbelief. He couldn’t imagine that the CEGEP and Universities didn’t have set courses for us to follow. He also couldn’t believe that we didn’t study Latin – which in his mind was the language of civilization”.

“My father was a very literate man. He read poetry to me when I was a child… and he wrote to every Prime Minister – championing the principles of justice and equality.”

After completing her CEGEP education, Marianna went to work before continuing on to university. Her father, Lupo – who had been in his thirties while serving in the Italian Army during WWll and 21 years older than his wife Anna, died. Marianna – an only child and very close to her father – was devastated. “I took a year off and went to Italy; to the village where my parents grew up. I got to know my father better through my uncles and his friends in the village. I also found myself during that year.”

A revitalized Marianna returned to Montreal and graduated from Concordia University in 1986, with Honours in Italian and a Major in German. “My friends were becoming lawyers and doctors so that they could get ahead and move out of the old neighbourhood – but me – I studied languages!” What seemed to be a poor decision would soon turn out to be a fine basis for a career in international business. “Concordia taught me how to learn. The ability to study a problem and then form an action plan has served me well.”

Marianna met Domenic Pappadia while they were students. “I met Domenic on September 13, 1984 on the Loyola Campus of Concordia University. I knew he was ‘the one’ when we first met. We encourage each other and give each other confidence. I’m not sure I’d have become the Marianna Simeone that the public knows without Domenic’s support.”

Marianna’s choice of languages in university was about to pay off. “There was a new Board at the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Canada with a mandate for renewal.” Marianna was hired in 1986, and quickly rose through the organization to become Executive Director. “I worked damn hard – but we were also creative and dynamic.”

Under her leadership, Montreal became the headquarters for The Italian Chamber of Commerce with additional offices in Quebec City, Vancouver and Milan, one of the world’s foremost centres for trade fairs and international commerce. The Montreal office was the largest in North America – even bigger than New York.

However the demands of two young sons were beginning to take an emotional toll.

bMarianna’s sense of family and commitment to her boys were in conflict with her career as an international business executive. “As Alessandro and Massimiliano were getting older, it was increasingly difficult to maintain the long hours in the office and extensive travel with four offices on two continents. I gave it up with a heavy heart. But I knew that it was the right decision.”

However, as one door closed… another one opened.

“I was invited to join the Board of Directors of the Museum of Civilization. It was a little intimidating at first – serving with other members like Adrianne Clarkson, Robert Bothwell, Barney Danson and Jack Granatstein. We were also responsible for the design and building of the new Canadian War Museum.”

Marianna continues; “I had the extra language, and I brought the voice of the immigrant experience to the Board. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and I know that my contribution over the seven years was useful – I made a difference.”

As a high profile Concordia graduate, Marianna became involved in the capital campaign in the late 90’s; bringing her into contact with prominent and successful executives such as Ronald Correy (Montreal Canadians) Don Taddeo and Rick Renaud. Again, Marianna’s enthusiasm and diligent work ethic made a valuable contribution to the success of the campaign. She was subsequently asked to join the Board of Governors of Concordia. With her business profile gaining recognition; Marianna was invited to serve on the Board for the Port of Montreal.

Meanwhile, Marianna was developing her broadcast career.

The management at CJAD asked her to join the “Gang of Four” for the lively 9 am discussion in the first half hour of Tommy Schnurmacher’s show. She also participated on Gord Sinclair’s “Free For All” discussion noon. “It was a great school to learn the issues. Gord was fantastic with me – sort of like a Guardian Angel. I couldn’t get anything by him…he could tell if something was bothering me. He’d say: ‘Kid – what’s the matter? Are they treating you all right?’ There’s a slight sag in her composure and Marianna expresses a sentiment felt by so many Montrealers; “When he got sick – it killed me…”

Marianna began hosting a weekly current events program called 7 Giorni (7 Days) on Global Television’s CH network – in Italian. “Every week for three years I brought on interesting people and we discussed the issues of the day. I was bringing these issues into the Italian community and forward to many people who lived primarily in Italian. People would tell me that our topics were now being discussed at Sunday dinner when families were together. Our community was becoming engaged…people would stop me on the street and ask; ‘Say Marianna – who do we vote for?’ Unfortunately, the producers at Global were more interested in someone who would share recipes – and while she’s an excellent cook – this was not what Marianna envisioned. Her guests included Marlene Jennings and Sheila Copps (who both speak Italian), Jean Charest and many other prominent political figures who were able to get their message out to the Italian community. In a dramatic on-air telecast, Marianna informed her viewers that due to a difference in philosophy with the producers, her last program would be the one they were viewing.

At about the same time, Marianna began volunteering as a spokesperson for The Montreal Children’s Hospital – a task she continues and has embraced for the past five years.

I asked Marianna how she came to the CBC, where she has a popular feature called My Take on the News at Six broadcast. “During the 2004 federal election campaign, the CBC asked me to do feature commentary called Ballot Boxing on the 6pm news. My ‘opponent’ was Egbert Guay. I represented the political right and Egbert of course was the left.”

Marianna continues; “I was very impressed with their professionalism and willingness to listen – and that they were open to my experience. I told them that I was only a phone call away if they ever needed me.” And call they did – when the Paul Martin Liberals fell and the winter election of 2005/06 took place. Soon after, Marianna was asked to replace Michel Godbout when he took parental leave after the birth of his first child.

After Michel’s return to anchor the evening news, the producers asked Marianna to do an opinion piece. “They saw how thorough and meticulous I was in my preparation and they asked me to try this segment, My Take. The feedback from the viewers was outstanding – and they decided to keep it as a regular feature.” Marianna brings what is now regarded as her trademark enthusiasm and passion to her CBC assignments. “You can get your information anywhere – what people want is a value-added component that gives them an opportunity to participate – to express themselves. The audience has that opportunity with My Take. It is an opportunity and a privilege to be able to express myself on the issues of the day.”

The management at CBC have also recognized that Marianna can be a fine ambassador for the station, and she is often called upon to represent the CBC. In a recent symposium organized by the Quebec Community Groups Network at the Université de Montréal, Marianna was part of a panel that included Victor Goldbloom and Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser.

And what’s next? “I’d like to have a larger role as a broadcaster – but for now, I’m happy with My Take.” Whatever she chooses to do, Montrealers can expect the same enthusiasm, attention to detail, and humanity that has made Marianna a Montreal media favourite.

Marianna Simeone’s My Take can be seen on CBC News at Six, Channel 13”