NEW YORK – It was the beginning of July, when the devastating news of the sudden death of prominent financier and economist Alexander Navab (November 24,1965 – July 7, 2019) shocked and saddened New York financial circles and the Greek-American community.
About two months later, around the historic Cherry Hill Fountain in Central Park, a group of friends, relatives and associates gathered to pay tribute, and also to celebrate in their own way the unique course of Alexander Navab’s life.
On Monday, September 16, six giant screens framed the area around Cherry Hill’s fountain, which was adorned with white candles and white flowers. Soon hundreds of guests took their seats as the choir sang Seasons of Love from the musical Rent.
“The whole earth is the sepulchre of famous men,” said Reverend Robert George Stephanopoulos, reciting the famous verse by Thucydides from the podium after offering the opening prayer. A series of speakers followed and shared memories of their shared personal and professional lives with Alexander Navab. His brother, Pericles Navab, spoke first, followed by friends and collaborators Jamie Blonde and Richard Blonde.
The list of speakers also included Lee Bollinger, President of Columbia University, Henry Kravis, co-founder of KKR Global Investment Company, George Roberts, also founder of KKR, Senator Mitt Romney, and Deeda Blair.
“Today we are here to celebrate the life that Alexander led. His loss has been devastating for our family. In every old family photo we see Alexander’s smile, wide and shining like the sun, like a bright window overlooking the abundant love and joy he had in his soul,” said Pericles Navab.
“But it’s another photo that is special to me. It’s a polaroid from 1968, where my brother is standing, wearing a white navy uniform covered with tiny medals. He stands with his right hand in a formal greeting. This photo is so much more than a picture of his childhood. It is an [evocation] of the doctrine according to which my brother lived. Alexander believed in order and responsibility. In the most important moments of his family’s and friends’ lives, he was always present,” he added.
Alexander Navab’s first language was Persian (Farsi), but the Greek language and Greek food and music were an important part of his childhood memories. For the first fourteen years of his life he spent ten months in Iran and two summer months in Greece – embracing both of his parents’ cultures harmoniously.
But the situations were not always so rosy. When he was 14 years old the 1979 Islamic Revolution broke out in his homeland. Consequently, his parents decided that they would be safer in Greece. The decision had a terrible price: at the airport they discovered that Alexander’s father would be forced to stay behind in Iran. His family waited for him in Greece for two years. This was a trial period for the family, but especially for Alexander who came to be the head of his family at age 14 – often bringing breakfast in bed for his mother on Sundays, before taking his three siblings to church or then to the beach, or to outdoor movie theaters after.
For Alexander Navab and his family, Greece was a haven of security and freedom. His gratitude was so strong it inspired him to join The Hellenic Initiative – a non-profit organization that supports economic renewal in Greece through charity, entrepreneurship, and financial investment.
Speaking about Navab’s charity work, Bollinger said from the podium, “Alexander Navab has left the indelible mark of his contribution not only at Columbia University, but also at Presbyterian Hospital in New York and many more New York institutions and schools. He used his charm and talents to improve public health and education and to fight poverty.”
“As I was preparing for this ceremony, it caught me by surprise when I realized how many attributes Alexander Navab had in common with great American presidents. For most leaders of all kinds, only a small part of them is the wisdom of their decisions. The important part, and what we remember, is not their decisions but their character,” said former Presidential candidate and current Senator Mitt Romney. Among the qualities mentioned by Romney were humility, family dedication, confidence, and genius in leadership.
Throughout the ceremony, commemorative photographs of Navab moved across the giant screens and it was a very moving moment when Navab’s two young daughters, Neva and Arabella, stepped onto the stage and sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow, dedicating it to their father. Also from the stage, his young children set white doves free and his son Julian gave a moving speech.
Lastly, wearing a black dress, Navab’s wife, Mary Kathryn, stepped onto the stage. She spoke about the power of mourning, the tragedy of losing a happy and good spouse, and the challenges of motherhood that lay ahead, when one must raise three children by one’s self who are soon to be teenagers.
After the closing prayer by Fr. Stephanopoulos, the guests were offered drinks, hot dogs, pretzels, popcorn, and ice cream – all those things that Alexander Navab loved while walking in his beloved Central Park.