Community Pays Tribute, Happily Receives Thanks From Amb. Tsilas

NEW YORK – In one of the most heartfelt and moving expressions of appreciation and thanks in recent memory, Ambassador Loucas Tsilas accepted the tribute paid him by the Greek-American and wider New York cultural community at a tribute dinner marking his retirement as the Executive Director of the Onassis Foundation(USA) on February 3.

When he addressed the guests  Amb. Tsilas adjusted the mood by declaring “this is not a farewell but a thanksgiving dinner,” and proceed to thank everyone who contributed to the success for which he was being honored, including the parent organization, the Alexander Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, the Foundation’s Board, the management of the Olympic Tower, which made the headquarters feel like a home and the Greek-American community “which embraced us from the beginning.”

Amb. Tsilas then declared “this has never been a one-man show,” and offered warmest thanks to current and past staff members for their dedication and passion.

As its founding Executive Director, appointed in 2000, Ambassador Tsilas and his colleagues turned the Onassis Cultural Center in New York, with its peerless exhibitions, intellectual and artistic events, and the University Seminars Program, which places eminent world-renowned scholars in universities, into beacons of Hellenism in the New York Metropolitan Area and the Western Hemisphere.

Antonis Papademetriou, President of the Alexander Onassis Foundation welcomed the guests to what he called “a very moving event” hosted by the Foundation at the St. Regis Hotel on Fifth Avenue. “I am very happy to see this beautiful room filled with friends and eminent people…we are here to honor Ambassador Tsilas,” whom he later praised for having “established a cultural embassy of Greece in America.”

Archbishop Demetrios of America offered the invocation and Amalia Cosmetatou, who was the Foundation’s Director of Cultural Affairs until she was appointed to be Amb. Tsilas successor, greeted the guests after dinner. After declaring that “I am the one who is most grateful for the legacy the Ambassador is leaving behind,” she invited Archbishop Demetrios to the podium.

The Archbishop said Tsilas succeeded at the helm of the Foundation not only because his distinguished diplomatic career prepared him for building the relationships necessary to his mission, but also because of the depth and breadth of his knowledge, which infused the programs and events he and his staff conceived and developed.

After praising the Ambassador, and before presenting him with a gift, the Archbishop told him, with nods of agreement throughout the elegant Versailles room, “we have also been graced by the presence of your wife,” Penelope Tsilas.

Among the distinguished guests – the Archbishop earlier said “If I were to acknowledge them all I would be standing here for hours” – were the honorees’ colleagues in the Greek and Cypriot diplomatic corps.

Christos Panagopoulos, Greece’s Ambassador to Greece, represented them and spoke behalf Greek government, but he was also honored to be there as a decades-long friend and a colleague. He knew that Amb. Tsilas left the diplomatic service only because he had a chance to continue in a new role to do what he loved, to represent and promote Greece and its culture.

Papademetriou thanked the guests, which he said constituted the cream of the community, on behalf of the Foundation’s Board of Directors and staff.

He recounted the conversation he had with his father and predecessor as president, Stelios Papademetriou, about their vision for the Foundation in America. They agreed that ideas and visions were not enough, and that the right people were needed.

During the interview process, Michael Sotirhos, who was present at the dinner and who had served as the United States’ Ambassador to Greece, told them “Amb. Tsilas is about to retire – you should grab him.”

Papadimitriou proceed to list the accomplishment of the past 15 years, and praised the team in New York and its leader. He then paused and said “I want to distinguish the person sitting next to him, who was unpaid but was present every day, just as she did when she was an ambassador’s wife,” and there was another – but not the last – burst of applause for Mrs. Tsilas.

Amb. Tsilas, who has a reputation for speeches that are short, substantial and sweet, excused himself for planning to take more time than they were used to.

After expressing his gratitude for the support of the community, he acknowledged that one of the most meaningful compliments he has received came from Archbishop Demetrios, who once told of the Foundation “you have become part of the Greek-American Landscape.”

He then expressed “my appreciation, my gratitude to the Foundation itself and its visionary leadership, past and present, that gave the opportunity to my colleagues and myself to serve a very high purpose:  to promote the Hellenic Civilization.”

He said that during his tenure he grasped even more firmly its true and universal values: “Striving for excellence and the quest for truth and beauty which led us to science and art…that help humanity co-exist peacefully,

Correcting what had been said earlier, Amb. Tsilas said the Greek government was not going to let him retire. There were plans for new high level positions, but he was excited by the prospects the Foundation opened for him, “for transmitting the immortal values of Hellenic Civilization from one generation to another.”

The beautiful evening drew to a close on a moving note. After Amb. Tsilas declared to applause, “I will never retire and I will never tire of promoting our wonderful heritage,” he turned to the woman who shares that journey the vision and said, “My own Penelope was not waiting for me in Ithaca. She was with me from the beginning 52 years ago – and even before that in my dreams and aspirations.”




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