Joseph A. Izzillo J.D.: The Innovation Interview

Joseph A. Izzillo J.D. is a renaissance man who spent two years in a monastery and three years in the army during World War II in the combat engineers and the topographic engineers. After the war he attended Fordham University and received his Juris Doctor degree in 1951 from Saint John’s University. Joe has practiced law in New York and Connecticut for sixty years. He has been a private pilot since 1962.

Joe is now a captain in the Naples, FL squadron of the Civil Air Patrol. Some of his most memorable moments were spending a day with Charles A. Lindbergh, personally meeting General George S. Patton, Jr. Helen Keller, Pope John Paul II, and J. Edgar Hoover.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovation is finding something new rather than improving something already in existence.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

The industry which needs to find innovation is the industry which powers our civilization such as the use of oil, gas and coal which are being depleted and one day will disappear.

We should make more use of atomic energy and at the same time we must find ways to make it safer. Also I think that we should make more use of wind turbines and solar energy.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

The best advice I have ever received is to work hard and to aim for the top and at the same time to be honest with yourself and with others.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

My greatest achievement has been to make my marriage work by picking out the right woman and to learn to make compromises and to not let my ego blind me to the ego and desires of my wife.

I also consider that having children is one of my great achievements and instilling in them the values which were instilled in me. My achievement in my ancient profession is secondary.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Newspapers and books. There is no question that digital is where we are going. I prefer the physical. At one time every city and town had a number of newspapers. They are rapidly disappearing due to television and e-mails where one can get the news almost instantaneously.

I do not believe that books will disappear e.g. I have Kindle but I still prefer the physical book. The communication technology is improving so rapidly that it is difficult to project what will come next.

On August 2, 1944 you were ordered by your commanding officer to personally deliver maps to General George S. Patton. Today, maps and real-time video can be delivered over a secure network directly to the Generals in the field. What are your thoughts on how technology has changed the military?

Regarding the delivery of the maps to General Patton with our new technology there is no question but that it could be done over a secure network. However as has been proven in the past, our enemies and others will find a way to burrow in and overcome the security and privacy. We read news every day now about how our privacy is being invaded in so many different ways.

You had the honor of spending an afternoon with Charles Lindbergh at the home of Pan American World Airways Executive, Sam Pryor in 1972. Lindbergh was an innovator who would forever change aviation and medicine. Today in 2012, what do you think Charles Lindbergh would make of all the great innovations and technological breakthroughs?

Lindbergh was not only the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic to Paris but he was the person who made many innovations in the progress of aviation. Also he was a technical genius in many fields including medicine. In my opinion he had a most unusual brain and also was willing to take risks in all that the did.

He was very unique.

When you were in your 50’s, you took some classes at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. Since then, there has been a foodie movement and chefs such as Ferran Adrià and Grant Achatz have embraced molecular gastronomy. What’s the next trend?

It was an honor to attend the CIA and also the culinary department of the New School which is now a college. I am not a chef but I grew up with a love of food and the desire and ambition to find new ways to make our natural foods more interesting and more attractive to all.

The current interest in food and the proliferation of food programs especially on television has made the chefs famous and also have given the average person the desire to emulate them and to experiment on the kitchen. Cookbooks are flying off the shelves.

The molecular gastronomy especially used in Spain by Ferran Adrià is another historical step in preparing food since the days of the cavemen. I do not think that it will become common in the preparation and service of food.

As to the chefs themselves see the story in my book about how the chefs are treated like royalty. My profession never received this adulation. This is a great time to become a chef. However, the field is so crowded that only a few make it to the top. Read Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.

As a Captain in the Civil Air Patrol, what is the greatest technological breakthrough to have a positive impact on flying and why?

The greatest technological breakthrough in aviation has been the invention of the jet engine. In one form or another that has brought about a revolution. However the propulsion for rockets is an advanced form of the jet engine and we have already gone to the moon and I am sure that we will go to other planets.

Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized on 10/21/2012 by Pope Benedict XVI. You have worked tireless throughout the years on this cause and even painted a portrait of Kateri which hangs near her tomb at the St. Francis Xavier Mission near Montreal, Quebec. Your painting of Kateri was even chosen by the U.S. Postal Service to honor the 350th anniversary of her death. What did it mean to when Kateri became a saint?

I always knew that Kateri was in Heaven. Her very life told me that she was with the saints and I have been praying to her for many years. You know from my book what she did for me with my disease. Actually only God can perform miracles but it was through Kateri’s intercession that I was cured.

We do not need to use a saint to ask God to perform miracles. But we know that they are close to God. Now that the Pope has canonized Kateri the whole world knows about her and her life and I am sure that it will inspire others to lead better lives.

Especially, it will help the Native Americans who are living in such dire poverty and acute alcoholism and unemployment. As you know I have been on many reservations and I have seen it with my own eyes. The white man has much to answer for in his treatment of Native Americans.

When the early trappers introduced them to “firewater” we learn that Native Americans have a weakness for alcohol and it caused them to go into a downward spiral which continues to this day. Hopefully Kateri’s life and prayers will bring about a transformation in the lives of many Native Americans.

Joe Izzillo recently published his extraordinary memoir “My Nine Lives (minus) One” which is available on