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​From Montesano to Caracas: The story of Don Felipe Gagliardi, the generous Tycoon

"Don Felipe, as he was called, had commanded with fear and respect, however he was also known as a generous man".

Cilento sabato 05 settembre 2020
di Antonella Citro
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the church of Sant'Anna © n. c.

The date was from August 30, 1962, the letter had been written by the beautiful and attractive Jacqueline Kennedy to the brother of Filippo Gagliardi, “Since this man, Pasquale Gagliardi, had been the president of Salerno and the founder of the baths of Montesano.” In other words, even Philip's brother had played an important role during Jacqueline Kennedy’s stay in Ravello. Pasquale had probably sent her some gifts in which she had repaid him by writing a letter that has been kept in the archives of the Gagliardi. These are the words that are worth mentioning, words stated today by the mayor of Montesano, Giuseppe Rinaldi, that bring back a very significant historical moment for the city hall in the province of Salerno.

However there are many stories about Filippo Gagliardi, like the one that earned him a title worthy of making the front page. It had happened when he gave a gift of 75 million to Montesano, and the Montesanese, to thank them for accompanying him on board for Naples. He was humbly born on 25 February, 1912 in Montesano sulla Marcellana, Filippo Gagliardi, the first of ten children, was an entrepreneur, a tycoon and above all a donor. A man, who at the age of 15, in 1927, decided to leave for Caracas in Venezuela where he was welcomed by a relative who was a businessman. However soon after they had an argument so Philip went back to Italy. In 1937, he returned to Caracas and there he began working in the construction field making himself well known. He had quickly made a fortune, so much money that he had become the most prominent and wealthiest businessman in the area. Everyone knew who he was. Filippo Gagliardi had personalized the story of a special emigrant, who became one of the most famous people in Italy during the '50s and '60s. Don Felipe, as he was called, had commanded with fear and respect, however he was also known as a generous man. In fact, in October of 1954, when he had returned to Montesano, he helped those in need, giving 25 million lire to the victims of the 1951 Polesine flood, while also donating 100,000 dollars to the families affected by the 1954 Salerno flood, bringing electricity and water while granting 55 mortgages in Vallo di Diano, donating 105 houses to the poor as he also had public buildings built at his expense. With these donations public works were carried out in Montesano on the Marcellana and in other towns, aimed at improving the living conditions of thousands of people during the post-war period. His generosity was also directed towards poor families who received support for their home, work, medical care, and education. Among the important places built in Montesano that remind us of the name of Gagliardi include: the church of Sant'Anna in nee-gothic style located in the main square built between 1954 and 1959, the Carabinieri barracks "Mamma Gagliardi,” the city aqueduct, the public kindergarten and he started the convent of Sant'Antonio dei Cappuccini in Scialandro which is still unfinished today.

Later he returned to Caracas and started some new projects. Between 1954 and 1958, when Marcos Pérez Jiménez was president, Gagliardi had finally made his fortune a reality. In November of 1957 the Venezuelan electoral law, which had allowed immigrants to vote, Filippo Gagliardi was chair of the commission that dealt with Italians joining the electoral lists. However in 1958 the regime was subverted and Gagliardi returned to Italy where he remained until 1967. Later when he returned to Venezuela the conditions had definitely changed and faith soon returned to Italy. At 56, in 1968, he died in Rome. His remains are preserved in his much-loved hometown of Montesano sulla Marcellana. Filippo Gagliardi, at times loved and at others criticized, was always ready to donate large sums of money to his native country while at the same time carrying out great works. Venezuela, which took him in had allowed him to find fortune and prosperity. From studies carried out, more than 86 cities throughout Italy were included in the long list of donations made by Gagliardi. Last year, since it was the 50th anniversary of his death, Montesano paid homage to him with a public demonstration in the square by using his name as a sign of gratitude for his outstanding gifts of generosity. The "La repubblica dei gigli bianchi" is the biographical book of Filippo Gagliardi written by his nephew Felice De Martino, published by Guida Editore, where you can retrace the sight of this extraordinary man who left from afar and travelled so far.

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