From the archive: Tony Antonias named Citizen of the Year in 2007

The following article is from the Record archives: it ran in the Saturday, March 31, 2007 edition of the paper, after Tony Antonias was named Citizen of the Year.

The longtime community booster and arts promoter died last week at the age of 89. Here, in tribute to his long association with the Record, is another look at his Citizen of the Year honours.


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Tony Antonias knew he was in trouble. Any time CKNW radio station manager Bill Hughes came into his office and closed the door behind him, Tony was in trouble.

"Now what?" thought Tony who was the company's top advertising man.

"Anthony," Hughes started. It was a bad start.

"Anthony, you are giving away the station."

Hughes was talking about Tony's generosity to non-profit groups. Anyone who asked him for a free ad - he happily obliged. The on-air time was quite literally littered with Tony's many freebies for one organization after another.

"I always called Bill 'Caesar Augustus'," said Tony. "So I replied: 'Caesar Augustus, it will come back to you 10 fold. These people need our assistance.' He never bothered me again. And I had a free hand with all the free ads I wanted."

And all those free ads, and Tony's years of volunteering behind the scenes, have helped put numerous Royal City societies on the map.

And that's why Wednesday night Tony was honoured as the Citizen of the Year at the New Westminster Chamber event.

In 2000, Tony received the Chamber's Bernie Legge award, which makes him the only person in the city to receive both honours.

"I was absolutely shocked," he said about getting the award. "I didn't know what to say, so my first two words were: 'bloody hell!'"

Tony has a passion for New Westminster and he loves to promote it.

Born in Port Pirie, south Australia, Tony started in the radio business when he was 16. Radio station 5DN in Adelaide was looking for a mail room clerk. Tony applied, and took with him a stack of ads he'd written.

The teenager never did work in the mail room. The boss sent him straight to an ad writing desk .

And Tony never looked back.

In 1955, Tony started with CKNW, the Top Dog radio station located at 227 Columbia Street. He worked there 40 years, 37 as creative director. During his time there, he worked on every major account, including creating the popular $1.49 Day Woodward's ad and jingle.

That first year, 8 a.m. news man Hal Davis asked Tony if he'd publicize shows of the Vagabond Players, of which Davis was a member.

And that was Tony's start in putting small local organizations on the map. These societies were given free ads that they could otherwise never afford in prime time sports on B.C.'s most-listened-to radio station.

"There wasn't a nonprofit organization that asked for help that I didn't give it," he said.

Tony Antonias
A 2007 Record photo featuring Jessica Schneider, executive director of Massey Theatre, and Tony Antonias with a book about Harry Warren and 42nd Street - in a photo in advance of the Royal City Musical Theatre production of 42nd Street. The book used to belong to the late Jack Cullen of CKNW and was passed on to Antonias. - Record files

One day in 1989, Tony was on his way to Sixth Street for a haircut when he saw a poster for a new organization - Royal City Musical Theatre. He'd never heard of the society before. And he figured if he hadn't heard of them, no one else had. So, he snatched the poster off the store window, drove straight to CKNW and wrote copy for Frosty to read that Monday morning.

"The theatre company couldn't believe they were getting this free publicity without asking and they tracked me down. I did all their articles and radio ads for years. And this year they've asked me again.

"When they started, I put them on the map. I gave them thousands and thousands of dollars of free advertising that ran at prime times. As creative director, I had the authority to do it - and I took advantage of it."

Back in 1995, Tony was on the steering committee to acquired Burr Theatre.

He beat the sidewalks raising money. While others sold souvenir Burr buttons for $2 a piece, Tony sold his for $1,000 a piece - and one for $10,000.

"I raised practically every dollar - more than $200,000," he said.

When Tony takes on a project, he gives it everything he has got - and he has got a lot. He is an expert promoter, he never gives up, and he has the connections to pull off stunts no one else could.

Who else could bring the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra to town? Tony brought the orchestra to town twice to raise money for the Seniors Bureau.

Who else could convince world famous opera singer Judith Forst to perform at a fundraiser on Massey stage? Who else could get her as a patron of The Burr Theatre?

Last year, when Royal City Musical Theatre lost money, Tony couldn't stand the thought of it.

"Lose money? Forget it!" was his attitude. Tony then went to work, unasked, to present A November to Remember fundraiser where again, his connections helped save the day.

Tony also promotes the New Westminster Symphony, local arts projects, Arts in the Park, Yam Jam, Canada Day Celebrations, and, well, many other things.

In addition, although he likes to say he is retired, he still writes and produces more than 50 ads a year for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. He has been writing the orchestra's ads for 53 years. He also writes ads for Cartwright Jewelers, the Waffle House and Bosa Development Corporation, to name a few.

Tony loves to see local groups and initiatives succeed.

And all he has ever asked for in return are the two words: "Thank you."

When asked: "Why do you do this? - it's a lot of work," he replies: "If I don't, who will? When you feel you've been blessed with a good job and you are financially secure, why not help those who aren't? I've never refused anybody, ever. I've been given a talent and my philosophy has always been: if you have the need and I have the ability - I will help."

 

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