By John Spiridakis,
ASTORIA – He is survived by his wife of 70 years, Eugenia, his three sons John, Harry and Tony, five grandchildren, Alexander, Tyler, Stephen. Nikos and Dimitri. Son, brother, father, husband, brother-in-law, uncle, best friend, advisor, editor, writer, storyteller, political philosopher, historian, caricaturist, conversationalist, chess maven, athlete, realist, pragmatist, advocate, democrat, dreamer, existentialist.
Harry, Tony and I were selfishly hoping he’d be able to keep inspiring us to be ourselves and fly like eagles, be our anchor during turbulence or doubt, till at least 100.
Our father led a life of character, applying principles to live by – kindness and love – that are universally espoused as good by the spiritual leaders. He was always engaged in analysis of the world, of our fates, of our actions, our plans, our fears, and our aspirations. He was our constant cheerleader without the fanfare or fluff. He taught us through his actions the KISS principle, the principles of love thy neighbor in the Bible, of Confucius, of Zen, of Meyer Baba and Bob Marley – Don’t Worry, Stay Happy, Of jazz/ swing, of the music of the Rebetes, Greek blues, a time to suffer and a time to heal with literature, song, dance, good food and wine.
He looked like a movie star and won Eugenia’s hand with his infectious charm, 1000 watt smile, his poetry, plays and mesmerizing conversation about every and any subject that creative and thinking folks might be interested in. He became her best friend, supporter and muse for ALL the wonderful things she has achieved.
He exuded a joyful nature and an aura of magnanimity and kindness and promise of fun and wisdom if you conversed with him. His father, my grandfather John epitomized grace and character and love as well. He never knew his mother who died when he was 1, but cherished the aunt and uncle who raised him during the terrible Nazi occupation of Greece.
I recall his hard work and dedication as managing editor of the National Herald, the largest Greek newspaper outside of Greece. He took pride and his work was highly responsible for the paper’s success, influence in the USA and diaspora, its reporting and cultural pieces. He always sought to be a fair and kind manager.
Alex was also deeply concerned during the past two years with the future of our democracy. He subscribed to the New York Times and I tried to read the Times assiduously cover to cover to process international history, critical events and cultural phenomena as they unfolded. Aleko taught me that by example as a journalist and writer, first and foremost, and as an activist. As a 20 something coming back to his birthplace of freedom, fleeing the Greek Civil War, he first worked as a Greek newspaper linotype operator then typesetter where his father worked. He then moved to the competition paper, The National Herald. He was upset by the low wages and awful working conditions at the newspapers and became the leading union organizer for both papers to the chagrin of his father who feared losing his job. In Greece, as a teenager before leaving for America to rejoin his father after 18 years away, he was swayed by the promise of socialism, especially given the absurdity of a monarchy for the poor and meek. Nonetheless, over the years he witnessed the corruption that can infect the best-laid plans.
He wrote the well-received history of the National Herald for the 50th Anniversary of the paper. The International Typographical Union he and others paid into for so many years declared bankruptcy and pensions evaporated. Alex recognized that socialism as well as democracy were no panaceas. But like many intellectuals and clear thinkers he was vexed by the our government’s impassive, gratuitously derogatory treatment of our immigrants and Western allies and inexplicable, laudatory treatment of the alternative types of autocratic governments extant in Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and North Korea that freely kill or jail political opponents and journalists without consequences.
When he retired after 25 years at the paper he entered an entirely different field and became a licensed financial advisor and then volunteered as a part-time bilingual translator assuring Greek bilingual special education students get the right evaluations and services.
At home, he was the Greek language model and Eugenia was the English model. I am thankful he spoke Greek with us and sent us all to Greek school even though Greek school and literacy was tough sledding. We all became vocabulary geniuses inflating our IQ scores (and getting our teachers into thinking we were really smart) thanks to our Greek!
We grew up in Astoria and in a country house with a beach nearby. He loved the sun and sea. He never ever TOLD us what to be or how to be. He gave us affirmations of our talents and aspirations with grace and advice, always in a way that we could process for ourselves and maybe own. He was proud of his Cretan heritage – and to HELLENIZE US sent me and Harry (I was 7, Harry was 3 and Tony in the works) to enjoy 3 glorious, adventurous months in Athens and mostly his hometown of Kefala and Vamos. It worked. I fell in love with Kefala. I can still smell the sweet ambrosia in the air of goat milk, sheep dung and clay roads.
He and Eugenia loved literature and art and music and dance and shared this love with us. Our home was filled with Greek and English books and magazines and music. He had best friends who were great living Greek poets, artists and lawyers and writers. Our home had visits from opera stars and concert pianists. We were given the works of the Kazantzakis: Freedom or Death; Zorba the Greek. Poets Ritsos, Seferis, Cavafy. Playwrights Euripides, Aristophanes. Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey. Plato, Socrates, Hippocrates. The antics of the Greek gods/Myths taught us how real-life can be.
He spent many years as a snow-bird in Tarpon Springs, Florida that reminded him so much of his beloved Crete.
Quick list of progeny professions, with a tip of the hat to our mom, Eugenia, teacher, curriculum specialist, children’s books author, actress, pianist, singer: Harry became a musician and technologist, Tony, screenwriter/actor/director/teacher; me, professor, lawyer.
Grandkids: Tyler, history maven, Nikos, filmmaker, Dimitri, actor-artist, Alexander, engineer; and Stephen, biologist.
He had a wonderful brothers and sisters. Our uncles Tony and Nicky, his sisters, our aunt Popi and aunt Erasmia, and their remarkable, loving souses, our aunts and uncles, their families are living proof. On Eugenia’s family side, our two awesome uncle Franks, were the triumvirate with pop and aunt Tony and aunt Gail and uncle John and amazing cousins generated a rare symbiosis of joy all these years and lifetime of memories with uncle Alex.
All who knew him enjoyed the company of a remarkable, caring and authentic person who evinced the trust and love he gave so generously.
He gave us the mantra to live by in his words and deeds: creativity, inspiration, courage, grit, humor, kindness and love.
John Spiridakis is Alexander Spiridakis’ son