Over twenty years have passed since George Kalpakis’ untimely death. I have thought of him often. There was a time that I thought of him each time I drove past the North Shore Community Hospital on my way to the expressway.
I thought of him lying in his ICU hospital bed. Although he appeared drugged, I prayed that he was conscious enough to hear and understand the intimate expressions of love that were being expressed by his visiting family and close friends at his bedside.
George was a special friend. Not simply because we bonded while hiking together as Boy Scouts, or that we grew up on the same block in Astoria, or because we shared a common heritage rooted in the Hellenic city of Pergamos in Asia Minor, but especially because of the purity and consistency of his love of family, friends, ethnic roots, and causes.
His ethnic passion exceeded the norm. An example of that was when he, as a reporter for the Hellenic Times newspaper, decided to fly to Athens to witness and to report on the Greek national elections in 1985.
At one time, after I lost my wife Irene to cancer, I fantasized about planning our September years together traveling and visiting historic sites in Greece and in Asia Minor. Although that will not be possible now, I will certainly have him in my thoughts each time I venture off on a new travel experience.
There were other times when I listened in admiration as he spoke extemporaneously before public gatherings. His words were from the heart not from the mouth of a glib politician schooled in doublespeak.
I remember the good times we had together with our other close friends, Mike and George Pontisakos, Tony Maroutsis, Jimmy Grontas, and Artie Turnas. Our friendship was founded on the bedrock of the Boy Scouts and in our common Hellenic heritage which weathered the decades. We witnessed each of our weddings, and then those of our children, and have since grown mellow and gray together.
George loved people. He could not wait for the start of a new day. His business workday began with visits to his many coffee shop accounts throughout the city. He would take their orders, listen attentively to their stories, and report on all the positive newsworthy stories he had heard on his weekly AHEPA column.
His compassion was legendary.
I will be forever indebted to George for his visits to my confined mother. He would bring her corn muffins and copies of the Greek newspaper, the ‘Ethnikos Kirix' during the years I was working in Greece. I recently reread my mothers’ old letters where she expressed her appreciation for his most thoughtful visits.
In my absence, George became her surrogate son.
George Kalpakis was always ready to help people. Had he the resources, I am convinced that his good deeds would have been even more legendary. In balance, he was still able to touch the lives of many people who loved him and who miss his presence.