NEW YORK – AHEPA Supreme President George E. Loucas holds a unique place in the history of the organization along with his namesake grandfather, as the first grandfather and grandson elected supreme president. He spoke with The National Herald about his life and the family’s longstanding involvement in AHEPA that proved pivotal in his life’s journey so far.
Loucas told TNH, “I was born on the night my grandfather was elected supreme president. [Recently] my mother was pulling something out of the closet and something fell and hit her on her head, it was this photo album, which was what my grandmother had kept when my grandfather became supreme president. Judge [John] Manos was chairman of the convention that year. The judge was tall and had a booming voice. I went to Cleveland because of him and he made a promise to my grandfather to look out for me. I didn’t know the man, and the next thing you know, I’m on my way to Cleveland, and now I live there, he had to approve my wife before I married her, but these are the types of relationships that are made in AHEPA.
“I was born and raised in Weirton, WV. It’s a steel town, and it’s like many of the melting pots through the years, filled with ethnic groups and a lot of immigrants coming through to work the steel mills.It was wonderful. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but most important to me was the All Saints Greek Orthodox Church, that’s where I went to Greek School, to Cub Scouts, to Boy Scouts, that’s who sent me off to college remembering to be a good Greek-American, and that’s where I always returned, and that’s where I still return, especially when I need to get my bearings straight my parents are still there, Emmanuel and Mary, my father was an identical twin with his brother, Stamos, called Tom, who was a pharmacist, my dad was a lawyer, and my grandfather was a lawyer, and that’s how I became a pharmacist/lawyer. I have two sisters, they’re both lawyers. My poor mother when she sits down to dinner it’s always lawyers and she knows how to keep us all in line. Penny, my older sister is a federal judge now, in Cleveland, the Hon. Penny E. Loucas, and Cathryn practices law in Oxford, OH, lives there with her husband David.
“It’s like a big family,” he said of Weirton. “My grandfather was the first of many things in West Virginia, he was a refugee from Asia Minor, he escaped right across from Chios, was the first to open a law practice in Weirton, and first to run for office in West Virginia became speaker of the house, supreme president of AHEPA, he was very gifted, and anybody you meet in AHEPA will talk about his oratory skills, he was able to capture an audience even in the courtroom, he would talk about how people would line up in those days you were permitted the antics of taking your jacket off and slamming it on the floor as you gave an impassioned plea to the jury that’s what he did and he was very good at it, but my father joined him and he never liked being a lawyer, and talked me into becoming a pharmacist like his brother, who was very successful at it and had several pharmacies along the river, he said, go to pharmacy school, and when you’re done you can go to medical school, or dental school, which is what he wanted me to do, or if you still want, you can go be a lawyer and you’ll have a specialty, because they were churning out many lawyers in the 80’s, you’ll find a job more easily, and if you decide you don’t want to go to grad school you’ll have an honorable profession as a pharmacist and you’ll never want to feed your family. So I cursed him all the way through as my friends were studying English or history and I was locked in a bathroom working hard to become a pharmacist, so I had to get into pharmacy school, take the boards, do all that, but it was the best advice I ever got, I represent Prince now because of my father’s advice.”
Loucas appeared on a recent episode of ABC’s 20/20 that explored the death of pop icon Prince from an apparent accidental overdose of the dangerous drug Fentanyl and told TNH that “if it can happen to Prince, it can happen in every house in America. I’ve been representing families who lost loved ones to overprescribing of opiates for ten years now, I’m probably the leading authority on it in the country and that’s how I ended up with the Prince case. I’ve never lost a case yet to this day and I don’t say that to brag, I say it factually, that’s how overwhelming these cases are but the conduct of all those involved was so wrong that the facts speak for themselves, it took a lot to put it all together but I win because it’s so upsetting when people read about it, that it just jumps out at people and they say that’s wrong, they look at it and say that’s just not right. A lot of doctors started overprescribing because people get addicted and they have more patients returning, their incomes doubled and tripled, somebody would go to the doctor once a year, now they were going every month to get their fix, they [the doctors] became wealthy. They were saying that only 1 percent exposed to these drugs would become addicted and this is the basis of the big manufacturing cases in Cleveland and I represent in that case municipalities and counties, etc. but the truth of the matter is that anywhere from one-third to fifty percent of the people exposed to those drugs become addicted. That’s why it’s the leading cause of accidental death to this day over automobile and trucking accidents in the U.S., it’s frightening.”
“I have a picture of my grandfather standing in the Oval Office behind Franklin Delano Roosevelt and next to him there’s a picture of my other grandfather from my mom’s side of the family pointing at the union shutting down the zinc factory where he had worked for 45 years and then he commuted to Wheeling, WV every day to work in the railroads in the steel yards, he lived with us, and my grandfather Loucas taught me about becoming a lawyer. My grandfather Emmanuel is the one who taught me about love of family, church, respect; doing my cross every day when I leave the house or get in the car, my children do that to this day as well. So, he was very, very influential in my life as well, but from the other perspective, so I was fortunate to be exposed to both of them.
Loucas told TNH that his mother’s side, the Parianos family, shortened to Paris, is from Samos. “My mom’s a Samiotissa and my dad is from Chios, his mother was from Kalimasia, in mastiha country, and she grew up next door to Metropolitan Maximos, she used to babysit him, that’s why my son has Maximos as his middle name. Metropolitan Maximos married us, he became very close with our families, he was in Pittsburgh and we were in Weirton, 30 miles away. My grandfather was the first in AHEPA, we have four generations now, he was close with the late Athenagoras when he was archbishop here in the United States and then patriarch in Constantinople, and then with Archbishop Iakovos, I remember picking him up at the airport on many occasions, but then he died, we went to the ’70 convention in Greece and then he died the following spring, I was only 11, but his influence has remained with me and spurred me on. I think a large part of what I did was probably to carry his memory, and because I was carrying his memory. I became supreme president largely to carry on his name and memory.
“It is a big legacy to fill the shoes of somebody as significant as my grandfather was, but it worked out well,” Loucas said.
He noted that his maternal grandmother, Panagiota, met his grandfather in Belgium through an arranged marriage, he had been working in the United States and sending money home.
About the 100th anniversary celebration for All Saints in Weirton in 2017, Loucas noted that he was there, “chemo-ridden and everything, I had cancer last year and I was supposed to be supreme president last year, and God bless AHEPA, what other organization does that, they pulled somebody else to fill that spot and held it for me for a year until after I recovered.”
Though Loucas is doing well now, he said he has to be “careful with the stress, when things get too hectic, between the practice of law and running AHEPA, I just have to take a step back, there are things far more important in life, just slow down a little bit.”
His family is his topmost priority, wife Sandra and the kids, daughter Lexie and son Max, “short for Maximos, he’s actually Emmanuel George Maximos Loucas, named after his grandfather first, then his father, and I wanted him to have his own name, so we added Maximos because he married us,” Loucas explained.
“Max is 18 now, and Lexie is 14, they were small when I started working for AHEPA nationally 8 years ago, but now, he’s graduating this year and off to college next fall, and Lexie’s a freshman in high school.”
Of his one-year term as supreme president, Loucas said “by the time I do what is expected of me there’s really not that much time to implement things. About four years ago we got a group of newer generation Ahepans and we made a pact and it’s called Peace in AHEPA where you skip the politics and we agreed on a slate of candidates because we wanted to work together and I call it continuity where we work and identify programs that we care about and share. Carl Hollister, the immediate past supreme president had ideas and I’m carrying those on, and then Jimmy Kokotas will follow me and carry on whatever I start, because with a one year limit we can better get things done with continuity and this way under the current system. But plans for the year were defined by God in essence when the fires broke out. When we arrived at the convention in Atlantic City, that became the priority to provide help to those in need as a result of the fires, the victims, and we had our trip to Greece and we’re working on that, raising money towards that, and we’re doing a feasibility study with Evangelismos which treated all of the burn victims to help them get a burn triage unit in the hospital which they don’t have, so hopefully we can do that and that will be built in memory of the Attica fires, that’s on the drawing board. The other of course is membership, and the big one is Invite. I believe the alpha and omega of AHEPA is the bond between two brothers. Their membership begins with an oath, to love, honor, and respect their brother and his family and it’s that bond when you have two brothers start to work together, roll up their sleeves for the good of the community, charity, for the good of the order, they get to know each other, and that’s when relationships really start to build, and become solid, and that’s when that bond is unbreakable like the judge and my grandfather. Many people are the product of relationships formed through AHEPA, to this day, weddings, baptisms, koumbari, and that as a grassroots organization, where it’s the people that make AHEPA, not the officers by any stretch of the imagination, that is what to me AHEPA is all about, and I’m making it my business this year to remind everybody that that’s how it started and that’s what’s the most important thing, regardless of everyday life, membership in terms of numbers or donations or scholarships, it’s people, loving and respecting people, and helping one another and building relationships based on that, and if we don’t have that, we don’t have AHEPA, period. Many people are not even asked to join AHEPA, people don’t have it in their mind to ask someone to come, but when I think about bonds I’ve made in AHEPA, or like my grandfather and the judge, everybody should have a shot at that, you can’t buy that anywhere, it’s special, and that’s what AHEPA can offer anybody, and if somebody’s not getting a taste of that, they’re missing out, and they need to go find it, and it begins by bringing somebody that you feel strongly about, that you care about in, and sharing that brother with the other brothers, and I promise you that a year later the other brothers will say ‘thank you for bringing him in, he’s a wonderful person,’ and that’s what brings more and more, so I said invite one, everybody wants to be a part of something, make it special, don’t just ask them, invite them to come and share what they have, and be a member with us, and I can’t believe that every member doesn’t have somebody they would think about like that and ask to come in, and that’s what I’ve asked the mission to be this year, I challenge every brother, shame on you if you can’t bring somebody in, shame on you. If you think about it in these terms, everybody should go out and bring somebody in, invite one.
“AHEPA was formed to help Greeks assimilate into American life, but now AHEPA serves the purpose of reminding Americans of the ideals of ancient Greece, democracy, education, charity, community, individual and family excellence and that really is philotimo. Philotimo and Hellenism, that’s what our job is today, and that’s not just for the Greeks, so anybody can join and be a part of that.
“I am blessed to have had those grandparents. And Michael Psaros, my dear friend from Weirton, said, about speaking Greek, ‘how lucky am I,’ I wrote to my parents this week and said thank you. I was in Thessaloniki and they wanted me to speak only in Greek and I don’t speak Greek that well, but I did it, and they were so happy and I owe that to my parents and I thanked them, I took a moment to say thank you, but whose going to be there after we’re gone, right? And I said Michael, I will give you the reins of AHEPA right now if you could help me with your business mind, to help set up a system whereby AHEPA becomes the vehicle through which we teach the generations to come, our children and grandchildren, the important principles of philotimo and Hellenism. We are already structured for that, yes, other Greek-American organizations are wonderful, they’re coming in, but who has over 30 chapters in Greece, who has chapters in every state in the U.S., people, not chapters, and it’s already set up. Internationally, in Australia, England, Bulgaria, Germany, France. I don’t have that brilliant business mind, I have a silver tongue, but I don’t have that business mind, we need guys like Michael or [John] Catsimatidis to help put this in place and the time is now, where oloi mazi [all together] we’ve got to think of a solution before it’s snuffed out. I have made it my business for this year to travel worldwide with this message that the strongest bond is one another and this should be a vehicle to teach philotimo and Hellenism through generations, it’s been here for five, let’s keep it for five more and beyond, but we have a job to do. Ahepans do everything, from loading milk trucks to give children milk in Lansing, Michigan to help clear the lead from their blood from the pipes, from the water to getting together monthly to prepare 500 sandwiches for the homeless. If Ahepans spread the news about one half of the good work that’s done we’d have twice as many members. So that’s in place, but I think that this concept of building a vehicle to spread philotimo and Hellenism through a network that’s already established is a thing that can be done and should be done.
“The challenge is that the newer generation doesn’t seem to become involved, there was a recent article, a guide to all the fraternal organizations noting they’re all on the decline, significantly, but they gave a nod to AHEPA which has been increasing, we had a few years where we did not increase, but I think the significant reason we haven’t grown further is trying to find the youth, a large percentage of our fraternity is getting older now, but the youth today are not becoming involved, and that’s the big secret everybody’s trying to figure out the answer to, how do we get the youth involved in this day and age, the millennials, because they get all their social interaction through this [indicating cell phone] so they don’t need to go to the church or the AHEPA hall to find social interaction, they get it through social media, so I don’t know what we’re all going to do in that respect.
“Older Ahepans should be telling their children, grandchildren, nephews to join AHEPA, it’s not any different from what it used to be, they should be doing what their parents tell them to do, so emeis fteme [we are to blame], the parents and grandparents have an obligation to bring them in.”
About the scholarships that have helped so many over the years, Loucas said “there’s always discussion about wanting to be more significant and also getting a return on the investment, in other words, having the kids come back, at some point in time you’re going to recognize that you have an obligation to give back to the community and we have an example of that tonight, we’re initiating a member who had scholarships every year, Princeton, and now he’s in the White House and he sought us out, wanting to give back and be a member, and so that’s what we hope is that by giving scholarships out we’re participating in our philanthropy, education, philotimo, helping the youth get educated, at the same time we’d love to see them join when they finish their school careers and want to start giving back to the community, and there’s a discussion about giving fewer scholarships for more money that makes a difference, where does $500 get you in college today? But I’m a firm believer that it’s not just the tangible number of the scholarship, it’s the intangible effect of awarding a kid a scholarship and what it means to that kid and that family and that’s reflected in the athletic scholarships every year at the national convention, they’ll pay the kid’s way out and the whole family comes, so in essence in costs the family more to fly out than investing in the kid going to school to begin with, but that’s the intangible effect of the award on the kid’s confidence, belief in herself, the family’s pride, that scholarship does so much more than put money in the kid’s pocket. Some kid’s will never get a scholarship, but they have that one, and it looks good on paper when they apply to college, so it’s very important.”
Of AHEPA’s vast network, Loucas said “organizing 500,000 people that raises a lot of eyebrows, when you think about all the people over the years who have been in AHEPA, the Daughters of Penelope, Sons of Pericles, and Maids of Athena, it’s easily 500,000 people, but I’m sure it’s in the hundreds of thousands and that becomes significant when you consider six degrees of separation. I do know that other organizations would love to become the AHEPA of their ethnic groups. When I travel and speak I’m quick to remind folks, thank you for the respect you show me, because I know it’s the respect for the office, not me, you didn’t really know me before this year, you won’t really have the opportunity to be with me a lot after this year, but you’re showing respect to me because of the office and that’s the reputation of AHEPA that earned that respect of all those people those bonds, six degrees of separation of half a million souls and that’s what this office represents, not George Loucas.
“There aren’t many of us that get to work at this level to realize what a precious gift it is to talk to you and we’re charged with the duty of protecting it, and that’s why I so readily accepted the mantle of leadership, it’s not just my grandfather, it’s far beyond that, and what I believe in, my background, I wouldn’t be where I am today without being a Greek-American, that’s for sure. And if it can happen to me, it can happen to any Greek household in the country,” he said.
Of this year’s goal, Loucas said, “primarily, invite one and having people recognize that AHEPA is a legacy, a vessel through which we promote philotimo and Hellenism for the generations to come, everybody who becomes a member of this family is charged with that duty and that’s the message that I’m trying to get out, that it’s a legacy, a precious one, and if they don’t look at it that way they need to stop and reevaluate, and know that it’s there and they can go and get it, and that’s why I keep repeating this story of how I became involved and there are so many more, people just need to stop and think about it and go make it happen on their own.”
When asked what is the one thing people should know about AHEPA, Loucas told TNH, “It’s the oldest, largest, leading service organization representing Greek-Americans and Philhellenes in the world.” He noted that Greeks were being lynched in Georgia which led to the formation of AHEPA, fighting discrimination, “helping Greeks assimilate into the American way of life, learning the Constitution, speaking the language, helping people with visas, bringing family members over, but the Greeks in one generation became one of the leading ethnic groups in the nation, I’d like to think AHEPA had a large part in that. Today, that’s not needed, but if you go to Germany, Australia, southern Africa, where the Greeks are immigrating at a greater rate nowadays they have this yearning, this longing to be connected to the patrida and that’s what AHEPA gives even to this day, so if it’s not helping Greeks assimilate it’s satisfying a yearning for their home country and I think Michael Psaros had a great speech at the 100th anniversary in Weirton about the importance of knowing where you come from, knowing your roots, and AHEPA helps connect the dots for people, and it reminds people of those important concepts.”