New York.- Vicki James Yiannias
Photos: Dimitrios Panagos
“Destiny Prevails, My Life with Aristotle, Alexander, Christina Onassis and her daughter, Athina” (Livani Press), by Paul J. Ioannidis, Vice President Emeritus of the Onassis Foundation, a historical account about a family and about Greece contains lessons and inspiration for the future. “It’s an important book, important for those who are of Greek descent, of course, but also for philhellenes who are students of the Greek reality,” said Ambassador Loucas Tsilas, Executive Director of the Onassis Cultural Center.
Presented at the Greek Press and Communications Office on the evening of November 6, “Destiny Prevails, My Life with Aristotle, Alexander, Christina Onassis and her daughter, Athina” contains revelatory information about Aristotle Onassis’ personal and business life, setting the record straight about the will of Onassis, and about historical events in Greece during WWII, which Mr. Ioannidis experienced first as a Resistance fighter then a pilot. “The book is an account of Mr. Ioannides’ own life and an account–a rare, inside view–of his close friend Onassis, and his family. He was there, helping Onassis make major decisions as he built his immense empire,” said Press Consul Mr. Nikos Papaconstantinou.
The book is a translation and reworking of Mr. Ioannidis’ original book in Greek, “και aν δεν εισαι θα γινεις”, which title derives from a coffee cup reader’s exasperated divination that “then you will become one”, after the young Ioannidis’ repeatedly asserted that he was not a pilot, as she insisted he was.
Mr. Ioannidis’ first motivation to write “Destiny Prevails, My Life with Aristotle, Alexander, Christina Onassis and her daughter, Athina” , he said to the gathering, was his desire to record some events involving the Onassis family as he experienced them in his life, and that were “heretofore unknown or which were not known to the public”, while his desire to relate his own experiences during WWII motivated him to write the “strictly autobiographical section” of the book, which also reveals new information of wartime occurrences.
The book covers the topics of Aristotle Onassis as a businessman and private individual; his children, Alexander and Christina, and his granddaughter Athina; the history of Olympic Airways; certain unknown aspects of Aristotle Onassis’ will and the problems that arose in regard to the establishment of the Alexander S. Onassis Foundation and the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation; the serious problems that were created due to the unethical and unreasonable demands made by Thierry Roussel prior to and after the death of Christina Onassis regarding the management of her estate; and the longstanding dispute between the executors of Christina Onassis’ will and the administrators of her estate with Thierry Roussel, father of her then underage daughter Athina, as well as with the Swiss authorities.
As well as the up-to-now unpublished information presented in “Destiny Prevails”, the book also contains dozens of never-before published photos, copies of notes from Jackie Kennedy to Onassis, from Maria Callas to Onassis, and a copy of Onassis’ handwritten will. in pictures showing him as a Resistance fighter and pilot, the tall, tanned Ioannidis with a dazzling smile could well have been a leading man in a 1940‘s Hollywood drama about the war.
“The book is an account of Mr. Ioannides’ own life and an account–a rare, inside view of his close friend Onassis, and his family,” said Mr. Nikos Papaconstantinou, welcoming the author and panel members, Mr. Antonis Diamataris, publisher of the National Herald newspaper, and Dr. Dody Tsiantar, editor of the book, as well as many of the guests by name. “We are very excited, happy, and humbled to have Mr. Ioannidis here with us. He was there, helping Onassis make major decisions as he built his immense empire…. Our distinguished guest was one of the three most trusted associates and friends of a Greek legend, a tycoon… the legend that we know as Aristotle Onassis,” he said, giving the microphone over to the evening’s master of ceremonies, Ambassador Loucas Tsilas.
“This is not only a social gathering of wonderful people, it is also the presentation of an important book, said Ambassador Tsilas, who referred to speaking about the book as a task “both difficult and easy”. “Speaking about the book is easy; speaking about the author of the book is more difficult… the two are intertwined, because it is a biography and an autobiography, so how can you speak mostly about the book and not about the author? It’s impossible, but I’ll try. This most interesting book is not just a translation of Mr. Ioannides’ book “και aν δεν εισαι θα γινεις”. “Destiny Prevails” is almost a new book… new pages, new photographs, new data, new documentation…. It’s important for those who are of Greek descent, of course, but also for philhellenes who are students of the Greek reality. It spans the time from the Nazi occupation, the Resistance against the Nazis, what happened in the mountains of Greece, and what happened in the Middle East as Greece’s government in exile was preparing to resist and return to a free Greece. Not only that, the book covers the establishment of a world airline, and the creation of an important, major public foundation, the Onassis Foundation.”
“The crisis is central in our minds… the international crisis and certainly the crisis in Greece,” said Mr. Tsilas. “Having read the book three times, once in Greek, twice in English, and having had the happiness to work with the author for the past 14 years, I was thinking about the difficult chapters of life in Greece as described in the book and I asked myself: can just one person really make a difference in a society in crisis, especially now, in Greece? I answered my own question with a resounding, categorical, ‘Yes!’ Aristotle Onassis was one person. But he was able to propel Greece to stratospheric economic and social good will heights internationally. He, himself, created a huge fleet of ships, monopolized the international scene for so many years, and envisioned the creation of the most important public benefit foundation. One person.”
Going on to describe the formation and development of the Onassis Foundation, Tsilas said, “Then there were a handful of persons who picked up this dream, his vision, and the most difficult will, and they made it possible… Stelios Papadimitriou, the late president of the Onassis Foundation, Apostolos Zambelas, and of course, Paul Ioannidis, the Vice President Emeritus of our foundation and the author of the book. Despite any adversity, any complication about the will, with the belief in what the creator of the foundation wanted to do, they managed to make it a reality, a reality which gave to–not only Greece, but so many other countries in the world–hospitals, cultural centers, thousands of scholarships, grants, the support of so many worldwide Hellenic Studies centers throughout the world, in Latin America, North America, Europe, Asia.”
The fact that this “handful” of people made a difference in difficult times, said Tsilas, “brings to mind the legend of the Bridge of Arta, which was ‘built all day, but collapsed every night’, a dilemma which had to be solved by the chief engineer’s burial of his wife in the bridge’s foundation so that the building of the bridge, which was most important for all involved, could be accomplished. A metaphor, of course, for the truth that nothing can be built, nothing can go forward, or be produced if you don’t put the best part of yourself into it. That is exactly what this handful of people, who made a difference, did. They built their best selves into the foundation of Onassis Foundation.”
Mr. Ioannides, Ambassador Tsilas went on to say, put his best self into everything he did, first by “abandoning the comfort of his home in Athens for the mountains to fight against the occupier, working for the Resistance in the Middle East; enlisting in the Air Force and becoming a fighter pilot; as one of Aristotle Onassis’ closest advisors, helping to create Olympic Airways, and together with Stelios Papadimitriou, and Apostolos Zambelas, bringing about the wonderful reality of a major public benefit that has brought so much to the world. And so, the answer is ‘Yes!’, one person, a handful of people can make a difference, and Mr. Ioannides is one of these very few who made a difference.”
Personally, and speaking for the Onassis Cultural Center, as well as a member of the parent foundation, said Ambassador Tsilas to Mr. Ioannidis, “I want to thank you for this book and refer to what the President of the Alexander S. Onassis Foundation, Anthony S. Papadimitriou writes in his I book’s Introduction: “The Onassis Foundation was built with flesh and blood! Therefore it is very important that this witness, Paul ioannidis, the last one alive to see and hear these events, is here to depose the true facts, frankly and boldly.”
Mr. Diamataris praised Mr. Ioannidis and the book as did Dr. Tsantar and Archbishop Demetrios.
At the festive reception that followed, super-chef Maria Loi, Greek cuisine’s ambassador supreme, was on hand with artwork-like hors d’oeuvres that were
mini-plate fare but ingeniously small for easy handling as you balanced an excellent wine in the other hand.
Some of the distinguished guests were: His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, H.E. Ambassador Michel Spinellis and Mrs. Svetlana Spinellis, The Honorable Consul General of Greece in New York, Mr. George Iliopoulos and Mrs. George Iliopoulos, Mr. and Mrs. Peter J. Goulandris, Mr. and Mrs. George Coumantaros, Mr. Nick Larigakis, Mr. Vasili Tsamis, Mr. Ernie Anastos, Mr. Spiros Milonas.