BOSTON, MA – George D. Behrakis, acclaimed community leader, businessman, philanthropist, church man, family man, and a proud Hellene, from the historic city of Lowell, MA , spoke with TNH spoke at length about a large range of issues.
He relayed his receiving an honorary doctorate from the Medical Faculty of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens on December 11 for his contributions to science, pharmaceuticals, and medicine, and for his extensive humanitarian endeavors.
Behrakis was extremely touched by that great honor and by the warm reception given by Greece’s President Prokopis Pavlopoulos. “You can receive a lot of honors, but when you receive an honor from your own, your family, being first-generation Greek, to receive an honor from Greece is one of the high points of my life,” Behrakis said.
“The moment I received that honor I remembered my parents, my uncles, my aunts, everybody came to my mind, because they came here when they were teenagers,” he added. “My father’s brother and his cousin came when they were 14 years old and they
worked on the railroads until they received a letter from my grandfather that there was going to be a war, the second Balkan War, and they all went back to Greece and they fought in Macedonia against the Ottomans, and then they fought against the Bulgarians.”
Behrakis spoke about his father, Drakoulis, with much love, respect, and admiration. “My father came here at age 14; he went back at 20, joined the military, and fought for Greece. He returned, got married, and became an American citizen. The judge asked him if there is a war between Greece and America what side would you pick, he said Greece and the judge said “you will never become an American citizen.” My mother was a citizen, but my father became a citizen in the late 1940 because he was saying that he was going to fight for Greece. That is what you call real love for your country.”
Regarding the current Greek crisis, Behrakis said that the people with whom he traveled and the places he visited in December made it difficult for him to assess the situation “because there were parts of the city where every restaurant was full. There were tourists, and Greeks coming to Greece for the holidays. I went to the Attica Department Store and it was full. Everyone was shopping and I said: ‘my God, what is going on, somebody has money!
“The Greeks are [too] intelligent and hardworking for this crisis to happen, especially when I see a lot of highly educated people that didn’t only go to school in Greece but also in the United States. The way the system works you need industry; you need people to work not for the government, but to work outside the government, in the private sector. I was fortunate. I had companies and I employed over 800 people. And I believe in the private sector. I pay corporate tax, I pay my income tax, so the state collects, but if you don’t have that then you are at a disadvantage. Secondly, I know that the European Community wants to increase the retirement age to 67; people cannot retire in their 50s, and I blame the politicians. Something has to happen, this cannot continue.”
Behrakis also saw the ugly part of Athens. “I saw part of it at the Omonia Square. I saw homelessness and hunger and I was really shocked because I had never seen that in Greece. I never saw people begging before. Greeks are no beggars. I said in Greece, you know in America, Greeks never collected welfare. They pay their dues. They are hard workers. Regarding the doctors I bring to Boston, the hospital officials tell me: ‘you know, Mr. Behrakis, these doctors from Greece have ethics; they are hardworking. Every paper they have written has been accepted in the American journalism. Greece is going to lose a lot of good brains.’
“I spoke to ordinary people on the street, I always do that. It is a mess; they don’t know what the future is going to hold for their children. They feel for the elderly who are on reduced pensions have been cut. This has gone on for many years.”
Is recovery on the horizon? “You want to bring companies to Greece but they don’t want to come. A successful company doesn’t want to be bothered by those regulations and bureaucracy. They want to come in hire, the best people, pay the taxes, pay whatever the government wants, but don’t bother them. I spoke to German companies, trying to get them to go to Greece, but they don’t want to because of the situation.”
George Behrakis adores Greece. He said “Greece is in a great location in Europe. How can you beat Greece with its antiquity, the islands, the people, the culture, the weather, and the climate? They are going to break all the records this year with tourism, so where is all that money going? There is no accountability. They need to create a ministry of accountability.”
Behrakis enjoyed observing the traditions and customs still practiced in Greece. “It impressed me how they handle the holiday season. The lights were spectacular outside of the Grand Bretagne Park. The singers, the carols, the orchestra singing, the songs, it was so impressive; we have the tendency to lose these things here in America. I know we are a melting pot of many ethnic groups, but we should never lose sight of the fact that is a holiday celebrating the birth of Christ. Here in the United States, we have the commercialization and the gifts, but in Greece it is very emotional to see a country that is having trouble but enjoying the holiday season. The spirit was there, at the Hilton, at the Intercontinental, outside of the Ministry of Education…It reminded me the old good days of the Greek community of Lowell.”