On my way to Larnaca International Airport in Cyprus, together with my longtime associate and TNH correspondent in Cyprus Neophytos Kyriakou, I stopped at the Nicosia Cemetery where, just a day earlier, George Paraskevaides, patriot, philanthropist, and entrepreneur, was laid to rest. George passed away in London at age 91, on December 5, 2007.
The church in Nicosia where his funeral service was held was overflowing with people, including the leadership of Cyprus, as well as friends and associates who came from all across the world.
A cemetery worker took us to his gravesite. We would have had a hard time finding it by ourselves.
Nothing – absolutely nothing – about that grave testified to the fact that one of the most important Hellenes of the 20th Century was buried inside. There was no marble or mausoleum, no guards to be found. None of that was present.
George Paraskevaides’ grave was a reflection of his soul.
All that stood on top of it was a simple wooden cross with his name – George – in Greek, and a little further down the inscription: 1916-2007.
To the right of the cross stood a tree; an olive tree. I was told that he had requested that seasonal flowers be planted at his gravesite. That was George. What beauty and simplicity!
Naturally, the seven years that have passed since his death are not enough for history judge his personality and work. Perhaps that is the reason why his memory is not yet honored in Cyprus – and by Hellenism worldwide – in the manner that is fitting.
Therefore, this special issue, modest but full of respect and love, does not seek to take the place of an historical study on this great Cypriot.
Nonetheless, TNH felt compelled to publish this issue now because the ever-memorable George Paraskevaides and the Greek-American Community are united by strong bonds of appreciation, friendship, love, and support, and it was not possible to let another anniversary of his death go by without offering a few words of love and honor in his memory, in lieu of a handful of wildflowers at his grave.
I first met George on the afternoon of November 15, 1983 at the New York Palace Hotel. He looked like a caged lion. His anger and suffering were intensely imprinted on his face.
Every now and then he would stretch out his hands in indignation, and then again fold them over his chest in contemplation.
Accompanying him was our mutual friend, the General Consul of Cyprus in New York, Haralambos Christoforou.
That was the day that the Turkish Cypriots proclaimed the occupied territory in Cyprus a “state.” George could hardly fathom it. I remember his words like it was yesterday. “America cannot allow this. The world cannot allow this. The Greek-American Community cannot allow this.”
He had placed great hope in us, the Greek-American Community, to liberate his homeland. We became friends, instantly.
Although he was a good deal older than me, George touched my heart in a way that few people ever have. It was not just his genius, although he was one of the most brilliant people of his era. Nor was it merely his charismatic personality, even though he always stood out no matter where he went.
And it was not his wealth either, despite the fact that he was rumored to be one of the richest men in Cyprus, and beyond.
What I found so moving was his passion for his homeland. The deep and pure extract of wisdom – a mixture of personality, learning, experience, and contemplation – that the things that truly matter in life are few, and that among them, the homeland ranks first. He would repeat this often.
One’s “country is more to be valued and higher and holier far than mother or father or any ancestor, and more to be regarded in the eyes of the gods and of men of understanding.” (Plato, Crito, Ch. 12)
George would express his loyalty to his country in both word and deed. And he demonstrated it faithfully and consistently for decades. He proved his commitment to his homeland by the time he dedicated towards its liberation. He proved it through his wealth, which he placed at his country’s disposal.
This is what separated the late George Paraskevaides from the overwhelming majority of other wealthy Greeks and Greek-Cypriots; the fact that he placed his wealth in the service of his country.
He did so without seeking conditions or exchanges. Only with gratitude for whoever had something to offer, no matter how small, towards the realization of its reunification.
He carried on the tradition of the generation of leaders from 1821, who put their entire livelihood in the service of the struggle for freedom when the big moment finally arrived.
As is known, these men were few in number. They are always few in number.
George loved the Greek-American Community. And he loved it because within its ranks he met men of all social strata who dedicated hours and money to find a solution to the Cyprus problem.
That warmed his heart and filled him with optimism. He shared friendships with the late Archbishop Iakovos and his successor, Archbishop Spyridon. He was aware of the Church’s influence upon the Community.
He joined AHEPA. He worked with Gene Rossides’ American Hellenic Institute and with Andy Manatos. He forged friendships with a series of U.S. Presidents, including Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton.
He would visit them at the White House. He contributed to the establishment of their Presidential libraries. Paraskevaides was Cyprus’ voice and lobby in the United States.
Therefore, this issue represents a small token of honor and love for a friend and genuine patriot; the kind that you don’t meet too often in life. Moreover, it represents an active reaffirmation of the decision not to allow this great figure to be forgotten with the passing of time.
At the present moments of economic crisis, with the Turkish vessel Barbaros sailing in the territorial waters of his beloved Cyprus and conducting “explorations,” the void left by George’s absence is enormous.
May his memory be eternal.