NEW YORK – Tears flowed as the friends and family of Andreas Panagopoulos and of his wife, Liseth Perez Almeida, and Greek-Americans gathered at the Church of the Evangelismos to bid him farewell at a Trisagion service on March 16 after the Divine Liturgy.
The service for the repose of the soul of the gifted Greek musician who lost his life on the morning of March 12 in the tragic explosion and collapse of two buildings in East Harlem filled the Upper West Side church.
Present beneath the church’s famed Tiffany windows that glow with an icon of the Resurrection were his wife, Liseth Perez Almeida, his brother Aris, who flew to New York from Copenhagen, Denmark, where he resides, the Consul General and Consul of Greece in New York George Iliopoulos, and Manos Koubarakis, respectively, and dozens of friends and admirers.
Participants were overheard telling of the impact he made on people’s lives. “You met him once and never forgot him,” one said, while others spoke of Panagopoulos being always willing to help people. Guitarist Spiros Exaras, who knew him as a friend rather than as a musician, spoke – as did many – of the power of his smile and positive energy.
William (Mitch) Christie has known Panagopoulos for 25 years, going back to their days as college classmates in South Carolina. “He can win debates with God. He’s very Greek, he loves to argue and he is the smartest guy I ever met. He would read a book the night before an exam and ace it,” he told TNH.
Panagopoulos’ non-Greek friends testified to his love and passion for his homeland, but Christie said “he came to the United States to be a rock star. He was in lot of bands and I played with him and we wrote songs together.”
Panagopoulos had high hopes for the last band he played in, Evergreen, and was disappointed that it had to break up, reportedly because some members could not get visas.
“He was such a talented musician,” Christie said to TNH “it’s the luck of the dice who gets signed to a contract. He is the best guitarist I ever played with – he gave Carlos Santana a run for his money.”
Classically trained since he was five years old, Panagopoulos, a guitarist and a keyboardist, played rock, jazz and the blues, Christie said.
Aris, who was deeply moved by the turnout of friends, told TNH that his brother loved New York, but that he hoped to eventually end up on the island of Santorini.
Panagopoulos moved to New York about 10 years ago after Evergreen disbanded. His disappointment was so deep that he turned away from music and focused on other pursuits, although he occasionally worked as a DJ.
“He was heartbroken. It was like pulling teeth to get him to play guitar with us,” Christie said. “Not that he is not blessed with Liseth and everything else, but it hurt him that part of his life did not work out. His life was pretty good, but if he had his choice he would still be playing with his friends.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that Panagopoulos worked for a company called Production Paradise, selling online advertisements, and TNH learned that he recently took over Black Book – Creative Industry Directory, an online site that manages a film and photography directory.
TRAGEDY IMPACTED NUMEROUS COMMUNITIES
Eight were killed and more than sixty people were injured in the explosion. According to The Guardian, police have identified the following people who also perished in the March 12 blast: died: “Griselde Camacho, 45, a Hunter College security officer, Carmen Tanco, 67, a dental hygienist who took part in church-sponsored medical missions to Africa and the Caribbean; George Ameado, 44, a handyman who lived in one of the buildings that collapsed; and Alexis Salas, 22, a restaurant worker. Police said body of the eighth person, a woman, was pulled from the rubble Thursday evening.”
Musician and longtime Panagopoulos friend Vangelis Alkimos told TNH that Liseth, Panagopoulos’ wife of eight years, a journalist from Venezuela, waited awake all night for information. When she was told us he was in the hospital, she and his friends rushed there and then to other hospitals, but the report was false.
“I can’t go back to where we lived…It is too painful to go and see,” she told the Wall Street Journal, which added, “Fighting back tears, Ms. Perez Almeida, 39 years old, said that she had left the apartment earlier than usual for a work event Wednesday, while he remained there, working from home.”
“We both didn’t have family members here, so we had a lot of friends,” she said.
“He was very smart and very Greek. He was very proud of his heritage, and he went back every summer to see his family there,” she told the WSJ, which noted Panagopoulos loved international politics and read many books, being particularly fond of history.
BLAST IS BEING INVESTIGATED
Debris from the explosion cleared away so investigators can start looking for the cause.
The theory that the explosion was due to a gas leak gained momentum after the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates pipeline accidents, said underground tests conducted in the hours after the explosion registered high concentrations of natural gas. The NTSB will conduct its own inquiry after police and fire officials determine what might have caused the explosion.
Investigators were trying to determine whether the explosion had anything to do with the city’s aging gas and water mains, some of which were installed in the 1800s.
On March 14, Archbishop Demetrios conducted a Trisagion service at the Archdiocesan Chapel. Iliopoulos, who was asked to help organize the service, told TNH that he had been in touch with Panagopoulos’s wife and assisted her with several urgent matters, including communication with local authorities during the painful period when she and others were frantically searching local hospitals.
Although police officials were not particularly helpful to his staff, other governmental authorities, including the FBI, provided valuable assistance Iliopoulos said.
A friend of Almeida called Iliopoulos for guidance about matters such as passbooks issues so that she could accompany her husband’s body to Greece, and about other practical matters such as funeral home arrangements. “We are not miracle workers but we try to help the family, which is in pain, any way we can,” Iliopoulos said.
At the Trisagion. Archbishop Demetrios offered words of solace to the deceased’ s brother, saying “the prayers of all of us will be with you, with your mother in Kalamata, with Andreas’ wife Liseth Perez Almeida and all the other relatives and friends here and in Greece.”
After Sunday’s Liturgy, Fr. Gabriel eulogized Panagopoulos and welcomed “his many friends and family who are here with us today…to pray for God to give rest to his servant, where there is neither pain, nor sorrow nor sighing but life everlasting…we pray that he is among the saints.”
He said to the congregation struggling to come to grips with the tragic circumstances of Panagopoulos’s death that “there are many things we will never fully understand…the answer is that we have to put our hope in Christ.”
One congregant agreed and added “this teaches us to cherish every moment. Every moment of our lives is a gift from God.”