George S. Coumantaros, internationally-renowned businessman and veteran ocean racer, passed away peacefully in Athens, Greece on October 17, 2016 overlooking his beloved Mediterranean sea. He was 94 years of age.
He is survived by Sophie, his wife of 63 years, his children Flora and Yannis, Christina, John and Elena, and Eugenie, as well as fourteen grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
George was born on July 23, 1922 in London and spent his early years in Greece. In 1940, with his parents, Flora and John, he and his sister moved from Greece to Argentina, where they lived until 1947.
In Buenos Aires, he worked for a major grain trading company and simultaneously expanded his knowledge of shipping and flour milling which had been the family businesses for many years. In 1947, on joining his family in New York City, he established Southern Star Shipping Co., Inc. that began operating dry cargo ships and tankers under the World War II Maritime Act. In a shipping career spanning seventy years, he established many long-term commercial relationships with international companies in the industrial steel, aluminum, coal, cement and petroleum sectors. He also serviced the industrial needs and, in many cases, provided highly innovative logistical solutions, for several multinational industrial and grain companies. He developed a reputation within the international maritime, trade and industrial sectors for his integrity and vision as well as for his boundless energy, creativity and resolve.
In 1960, an opportunity presented itself to establish a flour mill in Nigeria, a nation that had just gained its independence from Great Britain and sought foreign investment in industry. With George as its Chairman, the company grew tremendously. Under his wise and pioneering leadership the business expanded into other consumer food-related products and agro-allied activities. The company has been listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange since 1978. It employs 12,000 people who look up to him as a protector and “father figure”. Over the past 55 years in Nigeria, he has built a reputation of integrity and has become extremely well-respected within the Nigerian community for his undeterred commitment to Nigeria’s economic and social advancement as a leading nation of Africa. The company has been listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange since 1978 under the name of Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc.
In the 1980s, likewise responding to the Greek Government’s appeal for investment, he represented an industrial venture in Greece that built and operated a state-of-the-art brewery and associated aluminum-can plant.
George’s devoted interest in sailing began in the mid-1950s. He became a dedicated promoter of the sport, believing passionately that it should retain its “amateur status”. He was always closely involved in the design of his yachts, all of which he skippered himself, as well as in every aspect of his racing teams. He competed in many ocean races among which was the famous Fastnet Race of 1979 as well as 26 Newport/Bermuda Races. Competing over 52 years, he was first to finish in Bermuda five times, until in 1996, he realized his life-long dream and finished first overall, finally winning the Newport Bermuda Trophy.
For over three decades of yacht racing, he was known for the outstanding quality of his racing programme. Hundreds of young men and women are members of the BOOMERANG Alumni and have gone on to participate in America’s Cup and Around-the-World events. He donated his last yacht, BOOMERANG, to the US Merchant Marine Academy, at King’s Point, NY for use as a training platform for midshipmen.
He was a member of the New York Yacht Club, the Cruising Club of America, the Indian Harbor Yacht Club of Greenwich and internationally, the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes, the Isle of Wight, the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda in Porto Cervo and the Yacht Club of Greece as well as the Lyford Cay Club in Nassau, Bahamas.
Professionally, he was a member of the American Bureau of Shipping and he served twenty years as Vice Chairman of the West of England Mutual Insurance Association.
George was always a strong supporter of the Greek Orthodox Church and was granted the title of Grand Archon, serving on the board of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity of New York for several years. He was a generous philanthropist and a vibrant member of the Greek community in New York.
As a long-time member of the board of the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens, George believed that archaeology and the diligent research done by archaeologists were essential elements to preserving a nation’s history and therefore supported them enthusiastically and generously.
With his charismatic and genial personality, whether in the sailing world, the business world, or in any aspect of his life, George had many friends and was well-loved and respected for his unparalleled integrity and foresight. He was an inspiration to his family and his employees, and he will be greatly missed not only by his loved ones, but also by all whose lives he touched.