EASTER Sunday was unusual, in more ways than one, for newly elected Southern Downs Regional mayor Vic Pennisi.
The St Joseph’s, Stanthorpe, parishioner would normally have attended Mass, like faith-filled others across the Granite Belt in Toowoomba diocese.
He would’ve also spent time with family, taking a momentary break from his 16-year dedication as a local councillor.
But Easter Sunday was decidedly different because the unassuming local identity was “sworn in as mayor via online video link” and down-to-earth Vic didn’t mind.
“I’m a bit like a submarine, mate,” he said candidly on Easter Tuesday before chairing a meeting for natural disaster management, his first as mayor.
“I like to run silent and run deep. I’m not big on pats on the back.”
Ask the majority of locals about Vic and they’re sure to paint a picture of someone who delights in offering assistance without recognition.
“I like giving,” Vic said, qualifying that he “likes delivering”.
As Mayor he intends to deliver on “restoring relationships and rebuilding trust”, saying he’s “calm and ready to get on with the job”.
Sharon Pennisi said she’s proud of her husband of 40 years and “knows he will give more than what’s expected in the role”.
Stanthorpe parish priest Fr Brian Connolly echoed those sentiments and offered the parish’s support and congratulations to a “faithful and committed parishioner”.
“Vic has a commitment, not only to the ‘big issues’ of council but also for the issues that are a concern for the individual residents and smaller communities of this wonderful area we call the Southern Downs,” Fr Connolly said.
“I’m sure all our residents will find in him a very compassionate, wise and prayerful leader who will serve our community very well in the years ahead.”
Asked how prayer and faith “fits” into his life and the puzzle of leadership, Vic was direct, describing God as his “mentor and coach”.
“I find my connection to God brings me great satisfaction and peace,” he said.
“From an early age … I enjoyed the processes and the symbolism (of the faith).
“I found that it was where I was not only made to feel safe, I was also welcomed with open arms.”
Vic was jovial recalling his “making hamburgers for the feast of Saint Joseph celebrations from age nineteen”, a role he continues to contribute help to for the Feast of the Three Saints, traditionally on the first Sunday in May.
The devoted Saturday night Massgoer, who hosts a group of East Timorese seasonal workers and brings them to Mass too, described the “peace and solitude” of being in the church, as a prayerful space, as “energising and refreshing”.
Parents Salvatore and Carmela Pennisi, both deceased and originally from Sicily, Italy, had their own brand of “coaching” and teaching what’s valuable.
“My parents brought me up the best they could under the circumstances,” Vic said of cultivating, throughout his young life, the family’s apple orchard in Thulimbah, on Stanthorpe’s northern side.
“It was tough times and my parents were strict with no middle ground.
“In saying this, I learnt the most valuable lessons in life as a result.
“I learnt how to go without, how to be humble, how to help one another, how to keep my eyes and ears open and my mouth shut.”
Vic said it was the parental lessons in humility, honesty and “working hard without reward” that he’s been able to pass on to his and Sharon’s four children – Kara, Aron, Liana and Vanessa.
“I will always be grateful to my Mum and Dad for not only teaching me what to do but also what not to do,” the grandfather of two girls, aged 4 and 2, said.
What Vic “did do” was not only labouring on the family’s apple orchard but take on a mechanical apprenticeship after school and 17 years as a mechanic before running a hardware business and eventually running for council.
“After 14 years of reconnection with the community (through the hardware store), I sold it to focus on delivering on behalf of the people,” Vic said.
“I’ve a firm belief that you cannot win the fight from outside the ring and at the time, the community wanted me and asked me if I would represent them.
“I was passionate about the issues of the time, had the courage to stand up and speak up on behalf of the community, put my hand up and the rest is history.
“I get huge satisfaction from giving to the community and delivering on their behalf.
“The community inspires me and ‘knockers’ make me want to get it right for them.”
Vic deals with “the knockers” head-on saying, “complaints have solutions in disguise”.
“We live in a democracy, where freedom of speech is the cornerstone of the lifestyle we so often take for granted,” he said.
“Complaints … should always be given due consideration.
“If we sit down and listen, and if we ask the right questions, we’ll find ourselves resolving many of those issues without conflict.”
Of his political career, Vic is his practical self, saying, “There are many, many stories to tell”.
“There have been unbelievable times and rewards that cannot be measured,” he continued.
“There have been challenging times and times that make you question your position.
“There are times that make you laugh, times that make you cry and times that no man should be subjected to.
“It’s people that make communities and it’s the people, with the grace of God, that keep you in check and energised.”
Accolades for his work, Vic doesn’t seek, as he rolls up his sleeves everyday, working for the people of the Southern Downs with continued joviality and faith, especially in the current climate of health and drought-related crises.
“I don’t want to be remembered by what is cast in stone monuments but rather what is etched in the hearts of the community,” he said.