Author Tags: Biography, Mitchell Press, Politics

Born (1944) and raised in the Okanagan Valley, Mel Rothenburger is a descendant of Hudson's Bay Company Factor Donald McLean of Fort Kamloops. Rothenburger most notably became editor of the Kamloops Daily News. Having known former Kamloops mayor and evangelist Phil Gaglardi since Gaglardi was a controversial Social Credit cabinet minister in 1970, Rothenburger wrote a biography of the ex-Highways Minister, Friend o' Mine (Orca Books, 1991). Rothenburger's earlier books were 'We've Killed Johnny Ussher! The Story of The Wild McLean Boys and Alex Hare (Mitchell Press, 1973)' and The Chilcotin War. The father of the 'Wild McLeans'--Allan, Charlie and Allan; some of the most notorious outlaws in B.C. history--was the HBC Factor Donald McLean.

[BCBW 2003]

Friend 0' Mine (Orca $26.95)

PHIL GAGLARDI, AT 78, CLAIM5 HE HAS never had a headache and still has all his own teeth. As Gaglardi is also quick to tell you, his name, next to Premier W.A.C. Bennett's, is the name most often associated with British Columbia's Social Credit party during the 1950s and 60s. The controversial and flamboyant former minister of highways takes the credit for being the driving force behind the biggest expansion ever of B.C.'s highway network. He oversaw the construction of such landmarks as the Port Mann Bridge, the Deas Island tunnel and the Rogers Pass highway. In addition he oversaw the expansion of B.C.' s ferry system." But Gaglardi is also remembered for scandals which dogged his political career. There were his speeding tickets and what his critics claimed was the excessive use of government airplanes: two factors which led the media to dub him "Flyin' Phil". There were also allegations about patronage in handing out highways construction jobs, and complaints that his sons shouldn't have been buying land near future highway routes and later selling it to oil companies to build gas stations. "People either think Phil Gaglardi is the world's biggest crook or a saint," says Mel Rothenburger, editor of the Kamloops Daily News and author of an authorized biography of Gaglardi, Friend 0' Mine (Orca $26.95) to be published in October. "The truth," says Rothenburger, "is somewhere in between."

The press loved Gaglardi, or loved to hate him, and his name was a household word, largely because he was not typical cabinet minister material. His parents were poor Italian immigrants, and he began working as a logger, bulldozer operator and mechanic. Then he met and proposed marriage to a Pentecostal minister named Jenny who insisted that he switch from Catholic to Pentecostal religion and become a minister before she would marry him. Finally, in 1952, the Reverend Philip Arthur Gaglardi was elected as a Social Credit MLA under W.A.C. Bennett and was immediately appointed to the Cabinet as minister of public works. In the Legislature he was noted for his loud voice and inane phrases. Once, when he was accused of lying, he said, "Mr. Speaker, if I'm telling a lie, it's only because I'm telling the truth." Opposition leader Robert Strachan compared Gaglardi in full voice to "a thundering herd of buffalo with about as much sense of direction." In spite of his eccentricities Gaglardi was ideally suited to a government committed to growth and development and Getting Things Done. Premier Bennett trumpeted the opportunities of resource exploitation in every comer of B.C. forests, minerals, dams, tourism and Phil Gaglardi literally paved the wilderness and opened the way for the wheels of industry. Social Credit became known as "blacktop government". Phil Gaglardi had the drive and "real feel for the ordinary lunch bucket slob" to get the work done.

Gaglardi would let nothing stand in the way. He needed to travel all over B.C., so he hired a Lear jet. He needed to inspect new highways, so he had custom-designed big American cars standing ready for his exclusive use at major construction sites. (His cars had such powerful air conditioners that road crews used them to refrigerate their beer when the minister wasn't around.) He needed to be in constant contact with crews all over the province, so he set up a radio communications network linking his jet and all his cars. In the end the jet was his undoing. He was accused of letting his daughter-inlaw fly at taxpayers' expense to Dallas, and lost his job. Rothenburger, who taped more than 20 hours of interviews with Gaglardi and was granted access to his personal papers, believes Gaglardi knew nothing in advance of his daughter-in-Law’s use of the aircraft, and that he quit his job to protect the pilot's reputation. "He is intensely loyal. He took a lot of heat to protect other people," says Rothenburger. This is Mel Rothenburger's third book. His first, published in 1973, was about the wild McLean gang, some of whom were his ancestors. Then he wrote a book about the Chilcotin uprising "because my great-great-grandfather was killed in that rebellion". He has been researching the book on Gaglardi for 10 years. 0-920501-61-3

[BCBW 1991] “Politics”