June 15, 2010
Denis Flanagan (left) and Tony DiGiovanni greeting the Queen.
Denis Flanagan (left) and Tony DiGiovanni greeting the Queen.

LO executive director

What is your job description at LO?

Essentially my job is to implement member direction and to assist the members in growing a prosperous, professional, ethical, recognized, respected and valued industry. In that role, I have referred to myself as the “official observer and listener.” I am constantly trying to filter all of my interactions with members to arrive at a common understanding of the relevant priorities that will advance the LO family. I am also responsible for supporting an amazing group of professional and service-oriented staff members who “own” the vision and mission of the association. Go to this link www.horttrades.com/role-of-executive-director for a detailed description of the executive director’s role.  

What is your background before coming to LO, and when did you begin work at LO?

Before coming to work for Landscape Ontario, I was the coordinator of the Landscape Technology Program at Humber College. Before that, I was a grower/horticulturist working for Centennial Park Conservatory. One of my first jobs at the Conservatory was to label all the plants. You can still see the plant tags I produced almost 30 years ago. In addition to my role as grower, I hosted a local TV show called Etobigrow. Kathy McLean, in our home office, somehow got a hold of a VHS tape of one of the episodes. She refuses to give me a copy. I have fears of it appearing on YouTube. I also wrote weekly articles for the Etobicoke Guardian. At one time I was a regular contributor of garden articles to Canadian Press.  

I graduated from the Landscape Technology program at Humber College in 1978. Bob Tubby and his wife Mitzi were classmates. Other notable alumni include Rita Weerdenburg, Bob Allen and Harold Deenen.   

In the summer of 1989 (almost 21 years ago) I received a fateful call from the then President Neil Vanderkruk, who offered me the job of executive director. At first I said no. I thoroughly enjoyed my job at Humber College and had no idea what an executive director did. As a teacher, I felt it important to participate and contribute to the industry association and was serving as a volunteer on the promotion committee. I did not fully understand what Landscape Ontario was all about. Neil persisted.  

I told Dean Carl Eriksen about the job offer. I will always remember him fondly for his advice. He urged me to try the job for a year. He would hold my position. If it did not work out, he believed I would only be a better teacher for the experience. The only condition was that I had to replace myself. I recommended Harry Chang, who is still there. He was much better at the job than I ever was. He has contributed a good part of his life as a wonderful role model for hundreds of students, imparting his enthusiasm and raising the level of competency, skill and professionalism in the industry.     

When not at work, where can you be found?

I can be found mostly at home with my wife Maxine. I enjoy playing guitar, cuatro and mandolin, as well as recording music. I also have three or four books open at the same time.  

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

As a teenager I wanted to be a musician. I took a year off to try to make it. It didn’t work out, although we had a couple of wonderful opportunities. We were offered a recording deal with Art Snider, owner of the studio Sound Canada. He recorded Gordon Lightfoot. We also had the opportunity to record in the Mersey Brothers Studios in Elmira.  

What inspires you during your time at LO?

I am inspired by amazing members who are constantly contributing their time, resources and wisdom. The LO family is a very supportive and caring community. President Tom Intven refers to this phenomenon as the Landscape Ontario gene. The gene has infected thousands.   

Name your all-time favourite movie, musical group and TV show.

Favourite movie – There are so many. It’s usually the last good movie that I have watched. Notable favourites include The Shawshank Redemption and the Godfather movies. Musical group – I have been following Bruce Cockburn for many years. My wife Maxine will always buy me a ticket when she notices he is playing. I also love early Rolling Stones. TV show – I love The Amazing Race, American Idol and 24.   

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to cycle the Loire Valley in France with my daughter. I did not get enough. I would love to go back.   Recently I have this urge to visit Pompeii. When I was younger, I had this fantasy of traveling all of Europe on a Eurail pass. Perhaps there is still time. 

Tell us one thing about you that few of your colleagues know about you.

Most would probably not know that I took bagpipe lessons for a year. What a difficult instrument. Another little known fact is that I was briefly a director on the now defunct Curly Hair Association. This group was started by a former Controller of Landscape Ontario, who asked me to lend my advice to their proposal for an apprenticeship program. When the Queen was last in Toronto (during her Jubilee celebration), Denis Flanagan and I had the opportunity to talk to her about Landscape Ontario. That very same year, we at LO had the opportunity to decorate the stage for the Pope’s visit.