New York.- Vicki James Yiannias
“On October 28 we celebrate and honor our compatriots patriots who fought the good cause, but also to draw our essence from the power of unity and the power of passion for something noble, for the πατριδα that we should be honored to call our own,” said Ambassador Georgios Iliopoulos, Consul General of Greece in New York, thanking those attending the Demetrios Contos Memorial Program commemorating OXI Day for honoring “this great page in history”.
The commemoration was held at the Holy Trinity Cathedral Ballroom on October 27, a day before the anniversary of the 75th anniversary of the day that changed the course of WWII.
In his invocation, the Very Rev. John Vlachos, Dean of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in New York prayed for “the souls of our martyred brethren, those who have fallen in war, those who were slaughtered, and those who died in captivity and exile.”
Introducing the evening’s program, Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce president Nancy Papaioannou said she was proud that the HACC was acknowledging this important day in Hellenic history for yet another year. “For the last ten years our OXI Day Celebration has been directed to honoring the memory of a longtime HACC board member, Demetrios (Mimis) Contos, who was an avid supporter of cultural activities.”
Ms. Papaioannou said that she was “extremely delighted that the evening’s event brought together so many friends and supporters, making this another successful event marking this best and brightest day in Hellenic history.”
Ambassador Iliopoulos and Ms. Papaioannou both thanked the organizations that hosted the event in conjunction with the HACC and the family of the late Demetrios Contos: The Hellenic American Bankers Association, The Hellenic Lawyers Association, The Hellenic Medical Society of New York, the Manhattan Chapter of AHEPA (Delphi 25), The Association of Greek American Professional Women (AGAPW), the Holy Trinity Cathedral.
Ms. Papaioannou stressed that it is important that these professional associations continue to present events together, “not only to mark important events but also to promote Greek and American business networking.” Ambassador Iliopoulos, too, as well as expressing appreciation to the hosts, commended the organizations for collaborating so successfully working together so successfully for this presentation, saying, “We all hope to see this more of this cooperation in the future.”
“Our country, with its history of thousands of years and its contributions to humanity– which are great relative to Greece’s small size–has experienced brilliant glory but also moments of decline.” The legacies Greece gave humanity, however, were unique, both in value and in the influence they had. For all of this we should all be proud,” said Ambassador Iliopoulos. Virtues like faith, love for the homeland, freedom, equality, and respect lead the way to florescence, but departure from these values leads to decline and national disasters. The crisis Greece is living today, he said, is in large part a result of a decline in these values.
Introducing Keynote Speaker, Ambassador Loucas Tsilas, Ambassador Iliopoulos spoke of Ambassador Tsilas’s high-level, 35-year diplomatic career, his Executive Directorship of the Onassis Cultural Center, and the university course he is currently teaching at Queens College of the City University of New York titled, “Historical Transitions in the Late Twentieth Century”. Ambassador Iliopoulos described Ambassador Tsilas as “a legend in the Greek Diplomatic Service” about whom “people still speak with admiration.”
Taking the podium, Ambassador Tsilas returned the compliment. Quoting the phrase “And we will become much better” in Doric Greek, he stressed that he is sure that Ambassador Iliopoulos “will surpass amply” any praise Iliopoulos directed to him.
One of the five-member Bid Committee for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games Ambassador Tsilas wore the gold pin of the Games in his lapel that night “to bring a note of optimism.” He recalled watching the Olympics on television with Mrs. Tsilas while in Peru. “Greece in majestic terms. This is what we did, and what we will do again,” he said to great applause.
Everyone has his or her métier, but Ambassador Tsilas’s innovative approach to bringing the events and meaning of OXI Day to life in a way that made it something you won’t forget made it clear that his strengths are more than one. As he must do in his university course, Tsilas prompted a deeper understanding of history and change, by building excitement and a sense of exploration and discovery into his analyses.
Tsilas began his presentation, “Historical Events in Hindsight: The Paradigm of OXI DAY”, with the questions “What is Hindsight, and what is History? If we think of what the word ‘History’ means, ” he said, introducing the premise of his talk, “we might be able to make history tonight.”
“Historical Events in Hindsight: The Paradigm of OXI DAY” will be discussed in a forthcoming article.
Ambassador Tsilas praised the family of Demetrios Contos for their yearly memorial, quoting the phrase, “Those who have departed will die if we remember them”. “You have done this for ten years for reasons that relate to you; they also relate to us. Your husband Mimis was prototypical. He was a businessman, a churchman, a wonderful man, worthy to be remembered by you and worthy to be remembered by us.”
“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history,” said Dr. John Liakeas, quoting George Orwell. Liakeas, son-in-law of the Demetrios Contos, is president of The Hellenic Medical Society of New York. “Tonight is a perfect example of the things we do to keep our history intact. Ambassador Tsilas, thank you for that wonderful, heartfelt, and educational talk that makes us all proud to be Greek and to be involved in things like this where we promote our heritage and our unity.”
“Mimi Contos had an open house on his name day every year, and this has become our open house,” he said, “There’s a little bit of Mimi in all of us, and we encourage you to find that and celebrate your heritage and your Hellenic pride.” Liakeas especially thanked Stamatis Ghikas, Executive Director of The Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce.
In a tribute to his brother-in-law, Jimmy DeMetro told the GN that Demetrios Contos was a man who enjoyed life. He was devoted to his family and his friends. His home was open to all, and his parties are still remembered by those who used to attend them. He loved to dance and sing, and share good times with the people he cared about. As I think of him today, I realize what an astute judge of character he was. He knew how to separate the wheat from the chaff! He was a successful businessman who was comfortable with people from any background or economic level; people were either worthy of his attention or not.”
We end with Nancy Papaioannou’s recitation of famous quotes “that reflect the magnitude of the heroism of the day when the Greeks stood against the big powers together, denying to surrender, saying, ‘No. OXI’.” President Roosevelt: “When the entire world has lost all hope, the Greek people dared to question the invincibility of the German monster rising against the proud spirit of freedom”. Churchill: “Hence, we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks”.