On May 29, I didn’t even know that Steve Christopoulos existed. I knew of the charter schools he led – the Plato Academy – in various locations in the Tampa/Clearwater area of Florida, because our mutual friend and Tarpon Springs mayor, Chris Alahouzos, serves on the Board of Directors there and mentioned them to me on various occasions. But despite all of my interactions with Chris in Tarpon Springs over the years, I never had the occasion to meet Steve.
On May 30, though, while frequenting a Greek restaurant there, I heard another mutual friend call out to me. I walked over and said hello, at which point he introduced Steve to me. “Steve Christopoulos is head of the Plato Academy,” said the friend. “Dino Scaros has been in education for many, many years. You two should talk.”
Steve and I had a brief and productive conversation and he was interested in continuing it. A few days later, he called me into Plato’s headquarters in nearby Clearwater and we had an even longer discussion – well over two hours – about elementary education, secondary education, higher education, and politics, of both Greece and the United States. We agreed to meet again, this time back in the informal setting of a Greek restaurant in Tarpon Springs, with Chris and other friends joining us. We did.
Steve’s mind never stopped racing. He was filled with ideas about how to grow and spread the Hellenic language and culture among young children – not necessarily of Greek descent – throughout the United States. He spoke about extending that theme to high schools and colleges. He asked for my ideas.
We agreed to meet again, back in his office, for another long brainstorming session, this time with various key people in his organization, Superior Schools, which operates the Plato Academy.
Finally, as the days neared when my family and I were scheduled to return north, he suggested we go out one more time, again with Chris and other friends, again in the setting of Greek food and music in Tarpon Springs. We did, on the evening of June 20.
“I am taking my daughters to Costa Rica!” Steve told me, with glee. “When I get back, let’s talk some more about these ideas!” I agreed. He gave me a hug and said “kalo taxidi.” Our common professional interests aside, I felt as if I had also made a new friend.
As per his suggestion, I sent him an email with some of my thoughts about his proposed ventures, on June 25. I knew he was in Costa Rica, but knowing how driven he was, I wondered if he would read it while on vacation.
I will never know if he even read that email, because on June 28 I received a message on my phone from a friend in Florida. Steve had died the day before – he drowned in the rough and dangerous Costa Rican waters!
I felt a sense of surreal shock. I had dinner with this man just days earlier. He was so full of life and had boundless energy in terms of countless new projects he envisioned. He was looking forward to spending time in Costa Rica with his daughters – and now I learn that he drowned there!
Chris Alahouzos spoke to me, understandably also in a state of shock. “He was a great friend and a great person to work with,” he said, “but most of all, he was an outstanding father.”
It is still odd as I am writing this, because again, a month ago I didn’t even know Steve existed. But for whatever inexplicable reason, our paths were destined to cross and overlap for a mere month out of a lifetime.
Rest in peace, my new friend. And my condolences to all those who knew you far longer and better than I did, and whose sadness over your departure is understandably even more intense.