As a proud New Yorker, I have sadly grown numb to the barrage of senselessness and mindlessness reported every single day in print, on TV, or on the radio. As an admitted ‘dinosaur’, I have consciously chosen to ignore inundating my mind of social media, except when my family or friends bring something to my attention. Life and our mortality is way too precious a gift, in my eyes. Too much else to do, to see, to feel, to touch, to embrace and to experience.
I have not been able to escape my constant thoughts about 14-year NYPD Highway Patrol officer Anastasios (Tasos) Tsakos, however, who tragically died last week on the Long Island Expressway. He was just doing his job, attending to a fatal accident before his own final breathing moments on this Earth, when inexplicably his life was taken by a hit-and-run drunken driver with a suspended license, who days before had disparaged and demeaned the lives of all law enforcement officers on-line. But I could not stop thinking about Officer Tsakos, his wife, and his two children.
Maybe it’s because we share a Greek heritage; maybe it’s because we share our hometown of Astoria, NY; or that we shared principles that value family, friendship, humility, and humanity to others. But I quickly came to realize that I too came to Long Island in my early 40’s, to live the dream as he did only last September by settling in the hamlet of East Northport, buying a home and raising two beautiful children with his beloved wife Irene. Except now, seared in my soul, is the tragic reality that his children will never again have their daddy sing happy birthday; or attend a graduation or a wedding, or to just be there.
It is said that there are only two great compliments to give an NYPD officer, and in the emergency room on the night of his death, you heard them both: “He’s a cop’s cop” and “He is a good guy.” Resoundingly and chillingly he was revered and respected.
Beyond his valor and professionalism, where he always asked: “what do you need done?” – beyond all of that – he was considered the ‘best of the best’ as a father, friend, son, husband, and neighbor. He was, as we say in Greek, a ‘Palikari’. A ‘mensch’. He made the whole world around him a better place. He may have left this earth, but his spirit will live on through all those he touched. Yes, he was an elite cop. But, he was an even better man.
While attending his funeral on Tuesday morning at St. Paraskevi Greek Orthodox Church & Shrine in Greenlawn, NY, I found myself thanking a handful of men and women in blue for their service. Every time I did, each of them thanked me for coming. They should only know that it was my privilege to be there. You see, I needed to honor this extraordinary man’s life. And I can only wish that with our world turned upside down with racial tension, I wish more of America could have been there to witness how men and women of every color in and out of uniform joined hands, and embraced each other with a humility and humanity that makes my America that shining city on a hill and the beacon of democracy to the world.
And after all the dignitaries spoke, and when you could barely hear a pin drop over the loud speakers, Anastasios Tsakos’ beautiful bride had a few words to share that only illuminated and humanized their true love, and their dreams. My eyes filled with tears. And although she reminded the thousands in attendance what a hero her husband was, she poignantly and vulnerably said she hoped “Tasos was proud of her” and what she will really miss most from her beloved husband was “his big hug.”
Let us all take a page out of Anastasios Tsakos’ ethic and ethos and ask ourselves as Americans, as he always did: “What do we need done?” to make this world a better place. Rest in peace Palikari. We celebrate your life as a true hero and pray for your family. May your memory be eternal.