Greek-Americans of Washington Mourn Sandra Vonetes

WASHINGTON, DC – Sandra Jeanne Vonetes, respected businesswoman and beloved philanthropist, departed this life on June 28, at home in Washington, DC. She died the day after her 60th birthday. The night before she had gone out to dinner with her friends from the St. Sophia Cathedral of Washington.
Sandra, whose Greek name is Sultana, and her sister Maria, her identical twin, were raised in Petersburg, VA, the genteel suburb of Richmond. They were the only children of John and Emmalou Vonetes, both of Greek origin. {65066}

Her funeral was held at the Cathedral of St. Constantine and Helen of Richmond, whose pastor, Fr. Nicholas Bacalis, presided, assisted by Father Dimitrios J. Lee, the Assistant Priest of Saint Sophia.
The sisters’ upbringing combined the values and mores of Southern culture, and their parents’ Hellenism and Orthodoxy under the spiritual guidance of Fr. Constantine Dombalis, the longtime Dean of the Richmond Cathedral.
They attended Virginia’s Sweet Briar College, one of the nations premier liberal arts and sciences colleges for women. In the early 1970s Sandra and Maria moved to Washington, DC, where Sandra also earned a master’s degree at George Washington University in the part of the nation’s capital where they have lived since their arrival.
Dean Popps, a Greek-American businessman and community leader, first met her when she was working at the Watergate Florist located in the Watergate Complex. It was right around the time of the Watergate scandal, and the Greek-American proprietor had given her the opportunity that she turned into a highly successful career.
She eventually established her own shop across the street, the renowned “Sandra Vonetes. Caterer of Flowers.” It was not a typical florist shop, neither with respect to its creations nor its clientele, which included Senators, Congressmen, Cabinet officials, and embassies.
“All Washington luminaries trusted her. Not only for her personal touch on every arrangement, but because of her discretion,” Popps said.
She learned from her father, restaurateur and real estate investor John Vonetes, and inherited his touch and intuition. He was a Captain in WW II and legend as a logistics whiz. Stationed in the bombed-out city of Nuremberg during the war crimes trials that were held there after the war, Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson tasked Vonetes with providing for the 1500 members of the press who were covering the trial. A Supreme Court justice presumably can spot class a mile away, and the apples did not fall far from the tree.
“She was always a lady. I never saw them in jeans or shorts. White gloves, fine manners, elegant cursive handwriting,” Popps said, but there was more. Many people and organizations benefited from her generosity. “All the churches received flowers for various occasions and if they ordered $200 worth of flowers they got a $400 value. For the epitaphios, for funerals, any Philoptochos meeting or anniversary dinner, AHEPA affair, women’s’ organization event,” she was generous to a fault he said.
She and her sister were devoted to their family, playing the role both of providers and caretakers to their mother, who passed away about eight years ago, and their beloved aunts.
They attended to other people’s needs to the point of being completely self-effacing, and they were also very dedicated to their alma mater, participating and hosting Sweet Briar events.
The florist was not a mere business for Sandra. Flowers became vehicles of her love for people. They very personal for her and accompanied all her relationships. “Flowers were part of one big package of love, and personality and connectivity, and she expressed herself through them,” Popps added about the woman who was a fellow parishioner at St. Sophia Cathedral, and a cherished family friend.
Guests at the annual American Hellenic Institute awards dinner in Washington enjoyed her personal and professional presence. When he learned of her passing, AHI Founder Gene Rossides said: “Sandra was a longtime and staunch supporter of AHI,” which promotes justice for Cyprus and strong ties between Greece, Cyprus and the United States. “She cared deeply about the mission of AHI and the success of its programming. Our deepest sympathies, thoughts and prayers are with her family,” Rossides said.
AHI President Nick Larigakis said “She was a strong supporter of AHI, and in a way, Sandra’s work as a florist touched all of us who ever attended an AHI awards dinner in Washington and admired the floral decor. May her memory be eternal.”
The family received friends on July 2, at Blileys Central, where a Trisagion Service was also performed. The Saints Constantine and Helen Philoptochos Society provided the makaria meal after the funeral.
Contributions in memory of Sandra may be made to Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Richmond, or to the Saint Sophia Cathedral.