Giorgio Angelozzi

In the autumn of 2004, there were suddenly many stories in Italian newspapers and on the television news about Giorgio Angelozzi. And soon newspapers around the world were writing about him too.

The stories told how Giorgio — a seventy-nine-year-old retired high school teacher — was looking for a family to adopt him as a grandfather. His wife, Lucia, had died in 1992; she and Giorgio had been married for forty-six years. They had one daughter, who had been born in 1951. She was a doctor who decided not to have a family so she could devote herself to a career. In 2004, she was in Afghanistan. She was keeping in touch with her father with occasional phone calls. Giorgio also had one sister, the stories said, but they had not been friendly for a long time because they had argued about their inheritance.

After his wife died, Giorgio took his daughter’s advice and moved away from central Rome, to the village of San Polo dei Cavalieri on the city’s outskirts. He thought that the cleaner air would be good for his health.

He lived alone there, in an apartment, with seven cats. His health was good but his hearing was poor and he had to wear a hearing aid. He also had a serious problem with his eyesight because of cataracts. He could still read with a magnifying glass, but it was difficult for him to hold it steady because his hand shook. He knew he could have a simple operation to cure the cataracts, but he was nervous about doing this.

As the years passed by, Giorgio found that he became lonelier and lonelier. He didn’t make friends with anyone in the village. Occasionally the village police chief dropped in for a visit. Apart from that, and going shopping, he had no contact with other human beings. Often he would go a whole day without saying even one word.

Finally he began talking to his cats, and that made him realize he had to do something to change his life. He decided to place a newspaper advertisement asking for a family to adopt him as a ‘grandfather.’ He offered to contribute 500 Euros (about $US600) from his pension and also to help children with their schoolwork.

Journalists working at the Corriere della Sera, the largest paper in Italy somehow found out about Giorgio’s ad. They interviewed him and then wrote a story about him and about what he was doing to try to improve his life.

Because of this publicity, Giorgio quickly got replies from all over Italy — and from Italian families all over the world. He got one from a millionaire who lived in a big house by the sea, and one from a famous singer who had once been his student. He was also interviewed on a television talk show. That was how the Riva family found out about him.

Marlena Riva and her husband Elio and their two teenage children, Dagmara, and Mateush live in Spirano, a town in the north of Italy, not far from the large city of Milan. They had had a difficult time in 2004. Elio’s parents, who had been living downstairs in the same house, had both died. And his brother, who had been living upstairs, had also died. Elio himself was about to have an operation for a cancerous tumour on his face. Marlena, who comes from Poland, has no family of her own in Italy.

One evening, the family was eating supper and watching televison and they saw Giorgio being interviewed. When the interview was finished, Marlena looked at her family and said: “Do you think you would like a new grandfather?”

It turned out that everyone was enthusiastic; so they wrote to Giorgio. Marlena warned the others not to expect anything. She was sure that Giorgio would get many replies and that there was almost no chance he would choose them. But when Giorgio got the letter, he liked it — and he especially liked the fact that every member of the family had signed it. So he phoned the Rivas. The conversation was a big success. One thing that meant a lot to him, he said later, was that Marlena’s voice reminded him of his wife’s.

After that things happened quickly. Giorgio had more interviews with other people who had replied to his ad. But, he says, he was troubled by the feeling that he was being insincere because he had already made his choice in his heart.

Within a few weeks, Giorgio took his first ever ride on an airplane. He flew north for a short trial period of living with the Rivas. Everything went well. He liked the whole family and they liked him. He was happy with the spacious and private living space they gave him in their house.

He went back to San Polo dei Cavalieri and packed. When he was ready to return to Spirano, Marlena flew south to Rome to accompany him. As it happened, this was only one day after Elio had had his operation but he insisted that Marlena go to pick up Giorgio. There were reporters and photographers on the plane and more at the airport.

A month or so later, Giorgio and the Rivas had settled down into a happy life with one another. Giorgio was helping in the kitchen and helping Dagmara with her Latin. She and Mateusz were calling him ‘Nonno’ — which means ‘grandfather’. He was getting up early in the morning so he could spend a few minutes with Marlena before she went to work. And he was able to enjoy reading again: living in a warm family atmosphere, had given him the courage to have his cataracts removed.

- information from: Christian Science Monitor, 04.09.23 (Sophie Arie); Christian Science Monitor, 04.11.05 (Sophie Arie); Grand Rapids Press, 04.10.31 (Frances d’Amilio (AP); Philadelphia Inquirer, 04.11.18 (Ken Dilanian, Knight-Ridder); National Post, 04.09.04 (Francine Dubé)

- go to the Extras Directory for two important updates to this story