MIDDLESBROUGH, UK – Greek-Cypriot Stavros (Steve) Michael, a beloved member of the Greek community in Middlesbrough, a town in North Yorkshire, England, has passed away at the age of 86, Teesside Live reported on May 25.
The “kind, endearing grandad… fled war-torn Cyprus 60 years ago to make Teesside his home,” Teesside Live reported, adding that Michael “came to the UK after being ‘brutally tortured’ by soldiers during the conflict that led to Turkey's invasion of Cyprus.”
Michael then opened “the Golden Mermaid fish and chip shop in Ormesby, which is still run by his family today,” Teesside Live reported, adding that “crowds of mourners gathered outside St Hilda's church in Middlesbrough to pay their respects.”
An active member of the Greek community, Michael served as president of the Middlesbrough and Stockton Greek Orthodox Church.
His daughter Yiota Cowan explained to Teesside Live how he came to leave Cyprus, “My dad's village in Cyprus was just over what is called the Green [ceasefire] Line near Nicosia, they had a curfew, they had to be home by a certain time. My mum's village was on the safe side.”
Michael was a barber by trade, and “out late visiting people's homes to cut their hair, he got caught and was brutally tortured,” Cowan told Teesside Live, adding that “he never told us details. But he was wrongly accused of being a spy - he was just a citizen.”
“Yiota remembers her father as a highly respected pillar of the community, who would ‘help anybody,’” she told Teesside Live.
“He was such an endearing, kind man. People would come in the shop and not have enough money, he would say 'it's okay - I don't want them to go hungry,’ that's the type of man he was, he was a hard worker, he put a lot of hours in, we are so, so proud of him,” Cowan told Teesside Live.
Michael’s family had fled to the United States and he wanted to follow them there, but “he was refused entry,” Teesside Live reported.
Michael and his wife Carol moved to the UK in 1970 and lived in London and Liverpool.
His daughter noted that “he was a barber and everyone was growing their hair long, nobody was getting it cut [at that time],” Teesside Live reported.
“The couple went into Carol's family business, chip shops, arriving in Middlesbrough in 1972 with two young children, Chris and Yiota,” Teesside Live reported.
“A week later, my sister Litsa was born,” Yiota Cowan told Teesside Live, adding that her father “made Middlesbrough his home and we became boro girls - and boy.”
Michael “had a beautiful voice and sang in a folk band back in his homeland and there was always Greek music ringing throughout the house,” Teesside Live reported, adding that “he helped organize many wonderful Greek-themed charity events over the years, with Greek cuisine and bands at venues such as the former Marton Country Club.”
“It's just one of his many contributions to the community and he took great pride in it,” Cowan said of her father, Teesside Live reported.
Michael “was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2017,” Teesside Live reported.
“He was such a sociable man, it robbed him,” Cowan told Teesside Live, adding that her father “lost his voice to the cruel illness and missed talking and singing, but he ‘never felt sorry for himself.’”
“He still wanted to put everybody else first. Until then, he had been a fit man and was always on the go,” Cowan told Teesside Live, adding that “people have a beautiful respect for him. We knew Dad was special anyway, but it has been very comforting for us as a family to get so many messages. He always respected his staff and helped them out when he could, endless cups of tea, making up little meals for them. He used to say 'treat people like you would want to be treated.’”
Due to the travel restrictions in place, the many friends and family who wanted to pay their respects could not attend the funeral. Cowan told Teesside Live, “It would have been a packed house, friends from London couldn't come because of the travel restrictions. There were so many people outside when we got there, we were shocked. They said he had one of the biggest crowds they had seen. When this is all over, we plan to give him a proper send-off - a good old Greek knees up.”
Cowan noted that her father’s passing “has left a big void” for the close-knit family, and they plan on taking care of his garden with its “beautiful fig trees and vines,” and also to “look after mum,” Teesside Live reported.