The news broke the routine of everyday life. Theodore Spyropoulos died. I knew that he was seriously ill. But I had hope. Like so many others.
Yet the noble, conscientious and generous Hellene passed into history. The history of the Omogeneia. The history of Hellenism. He had realized the American dream.
Following in the footsteps of his family he moved to Chicago in 1964. He started low but reached the heights. In economic and social terms. There is nothing unusual in that however. This is America.
What is unusual is the way he responded to the call of duty. A voice that many hear but few follow. The voice was calling him to duty in the service of Hellenism.
For Theodore it was obvious that the Diaspora had to preserve its Greek identity. Its language and hence Greek education – paidea.
It was obvious that Greece had to be protected. And so he was an active participant and supporter in the struggle for the national issues. On those issues he was uncompromising.
In companionship with his beloved wife Erica he crisscrossed the community. Our teachers did not have a better friend or supporter.
Our organizations that deal with national issues often turned to Ted for support and guidance. His death has left a void that will not easily be filled. It will be difficult. But it will be.
The Greeks, and the Greeks of America, unfortunately, have always relied on individuals, not institutions. The personalities who wielded the shield and spear in defense of Hellenic identity in American are few.
One might wonder: Why do those few Greeks bear that responsibility? It is a calling. And they are stubborn about being Greek, indeed it is the obstinacy of the Greeks.
Undoubtedly you have heard it – Ted did – many times: The language is a lost cause. Paideia, education is a lost cause. The Greeks do not have a future. Why are you wasting your time?
Those who say this are merely expressing their own realities. Their weaknesses. Their lack of soul. The lack of understanding of the changes a people undergo over time.
Does it matter to them, for themselves and for their children, to belong to a tribe – φυλή ? Are they oblivious to the practical advantages or spiritual and intellectual benefits of being rooted in the breadth and depth of Hellenic history and culture?
These words, that “We are lost,” have been heard for the past 70 years. They contradict the facts. Nothing has been lost. It is a dynamic process. And a moving target.
Hellenes are changing, they are somewhat disoriented, are searching, awaking and standing up. Of course there are losses. A portion is lost, a but new pieces are born – the children of non-Greeks who marry Greeks have become Philhellenes, if not Greeks in spirit, extending Hellenism into families that never had any contact with it.
“Notable Greeks” always spring up miraculously, to use the felicitous phrase of Christos Panagopoulos, the Greek Ambassador to America. People like Ted Spyropoulos. There are certainly other “notable Greeks.”
Too bad there are not that many, though. And it’s a shame that many wealthy members of the community, especially those who were born in Greece, do not listen to the voice of duty.
They prefer to build monuments to their ego in Greece rather than to contribute to institution building – the creation of schools, nursing homes, cultural centers, museums – within the communities in which they actually live (and where they will probably die).
Ted was one of those independent people with an open mind, a thoughtful Greek. And he followed the not very glorious path of promoting the Greek language, paidea and our national issues.
He walked this road with patience, perseverance, and tenacity. He did not pull down the flag. He did not compromise. And at the end of the day, he was vindicated. And celebrated.
He deservesto have a school named in his honor. Ted Spyropoulos will go down in history as a major Greek-American.
As a worthy child of Greece and America.
He is example to us all. We will miss him. May the soil that covers him rest lightly on his mortal remains.
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