By John Sofianos
Translated from the original Greek
ATHENS – In a ceremony replete with academics and other dignitaries at the University of Athens on December 11, acclaimed businessman and philanthropist George D. Behrakis received an honorary doctorate from the Medical Faculty of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens for his contributions to science, pharmaceuticals, and medicine, and for his extensive humanitarian endeavors.
University Chancellor Napoleon Maravegias introduced Behrakis and spoke about his contribution to people’s health and quality of daily life, and noted his membership on numerous academic boards and various awards by leading scientific organizations in the United States and around the world.
Those accolades alone would be enough for which to honor Behrakis, Maravegias said.
“But he didn’t stop there. Following his very successful career and having created a remarkable fortune, he decided to give back to society for the acceptance and the trust it showed him. He is one of the most important Greek-American benefactors and humanitarians, constantly promoting Greek civilization, culture, and history.” Behrakis, who has funded training in the United States for many Greek doctors, is also a key sponsor of antismoking programs in Greece, Maravegias said. “It is a particularly significant moment for all of us to welcome a top scientist, with a multifaceted personality who honors Greece and the United States. A complete human being who lives within society and listens to its needs,” Marvegias said of Behrakis, to thunderous applause.
GREAT, PLAIN MAN
Behrakis’ cousin, Dr. Panagiotis Behrakis, a professor at the University’s Medical School, said about the honoree: “Today, the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens honors an exceptional member of the Greek Community of North America. With mixed feelings, of great honor, as well as emotions resulting from my relation with George Behrakis, I will try to briefly present his scientific work. “Born and raised in Boston, he graduated from Northeastern University with a degree in pharmacy and he immediately dedicated himself into the field of research and science. He developed new methods of packaging, administering, circulation, and pharmacotechnical use, which made life easier for millions of people.
“Soon he found himself, because of his stellar career, among the most distinguished Greeks in the United States. He began his second contribution to society, generous philanthropic work, the extent of which if described here could easily keep us here for a few weeks.
“But, I would like to refer in particular to his grant to the Museum of Fine Arts of Boston. I can never forget the grand opening, when the entire Museum was blue and white from the Greek flags surrounding it. Greco-Roman artworks, an entire wing dedicated to Greece: this is his accomplishment…
“With all of his achievements, all of the honor and glory surrounding him from the global community, he never became a difficult man. He was never the man of bodyguards and iron-fenced residences. He is a simple family man. A father of four and grandfather of nine, loved and beloved by all. And the image of his family around the dinner table in Boston is a lesson to be learned by everyone.
“George Behrakis enjoys the love of simple people from all walks of life, because he never stopped being plain himself. He has managed to downplay his tremendous achievements due to his humble nature.
“George, I would like to wish you to be well, be strong, and keep up your work making Greece proud the only way you know how. We all thank you for all that you’ve done, all that you’re doing, and we wish you to continue doing it for many, many years to come.”
After receiving the honorary doctorate, it was time for George Behrakis himself, to speak: “It is a great honor for me as a first-generation Greek born in the United States” to receive this distinction, he began. “You know it’s a little different when you are honored by your own people. It causes emotions mainly in the heart. Growing up in the Greek community, I had two brothers and two sisters. My mother was from Myrtilo and father was from Triantafillia, Mani. One thing they never forgot and conveyed to us was the Greek principles and Greek Orthodoxy.”
Behrakis made reference to his school years, and pointed out that he studied science not to become a pharmacist, but to work with pharmaceuticals.
“I served two years in the U.S. Army and got lucky and served in Washington working on the Army’s pharmaceutical supplies, which was a great experience for a 25-year-old.
“I learned one thing: knowledge is power,” he pointed out, and mentioned their family physician who was a brilliant man, said that he learned English, went to college, medical school, became a surgeon, and always said to young Greek men and women: ‘the mind, the mind, the mind, remember this, you don’t want to work with your hands, you want to work only with your mind.’”
How did Behrakis get involved in philanthropy? “A Greek word,” he reminded: “I remember my father and uncle who had a business when I was young, and they would give money to Greeks who came to them. One day I asked: ‘Why do you give them money?’ ‘Son,’ my father replied, ‘you must help those who are in need.’
Behrakis spoke of the Greek-American community with pride and of the success of politicians like Michael Dukakis, and concluded by stating how proud he is of the all the great feedback he receives about young Greek doctors who come to the United States, namely, how knowledgeable and hardworking they are. “They have ethics and values, and that is very important,” he pointed out.
“I thank you to from the bottom of my heart,” Behrakis said, to the University officials and the rest of the audience, who responded with giving him a standing ovation.