Harry Spiro Mitsanas, an executive in the engineering industry that exploded into Silicon Valley and a man who refused to allow a mid-life stroke to deter his zest for family and friends, died Thursday April 2 at his home in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. He was 88.
He is survived by Emily, his loving wife of 63 years; his son, George; daughter-in-law Georgene, and grandchildren, Harrison, Trianna and Michael; and his daughter, Maria Mitsanas Blasi, son-in-law Darrell, and grandchildren Arianna Blasi Farrow and Andrew Blasi. His eldest son, Spiro, preceded Harry in death as did his sister Panagiotitsa.
Mitsanas is also survived by his daughter, and Harry’s granddaughter, Anastasia, and his brother Demetri of California and sisters Christina of Australia and Anna of Greece.
Harry’s is the story of an American immigrant who came to this country and thrived, building a successful career, raising a loving family and enjoying an expansive circle of friends.
He was born February 4, 1932, in Tripoli, in the heart of the Peloponnesos in southern Greece. As a young boy, Harry, the son of a long-time employee at the local city government, became known for his abilities in badminton, backgammon, math, chess, and poker. From his youth through adulthood, he was regarded as well-read.
In Greece, Harry lived through Italian and Nazi occupations during World War II and a violent post-WWII Greek civil war before emigrating to the United States in the 1950s with the assistance of relatives from the Pallas family, part of a large and vibrant Greek community in San Francisco. Pallas Brothers was a well-established San Francisco-based television repair shop in the city, and while attending college, Harry went to work there, installing TV antennas throughout the Peninsula. Harry quickly earned a degree in electrical engineering from University of California, Berkeley, and subsequently a graduate engineering degree from Santa Clara University.
In 1957, Harry married Emily Gavallos, a native of the Greek isle Santorini who had come to the United States at the age of 11, having survived the hardships of war-torn Greece during World War II. Like Harry, she settled in the San Francisco Greek community and she was introduced to her future husband by her brother, Victor. Shortly after their marriage, the couple moved to Redwood City, CA, where they raised their family and became widely known among their neighbors for their verdant garden, which included abundant plantings of tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs that were featured prominently in Emily’s outstanding cooking. He became an enthusiastic and consistent supporter of the Greek-American Athletic Club, a semi-pro San Francisco-based soccer team, founded a few years before Harry emigrated, and which dominated the regional league for decades.
Harry joined burgeoning high-tech company GTE Lenkurt in San Carlos, CA, one of the founding companies of Silicon Valley, rising to the position as head of the firm’s national electrical engineering program. He worked at Lenkurt for more than 30 years, and then for another famous Silicon Valley firm, Memorex. His work with these firms took him throughout the world and the United States.
He was highly active in the Peninsula Greek community, centered around the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Cross in Belmont, of which Harry and Emily were among the founding members. He served as a member, president, and treasurer of the Holy Cross Parish Council. He also personally supervised the preparation of beef that was skewered and sold as souvlaki at the annual Belmont Greek Festival, an undertaking that involved dozens of friends and fellow parishioners from the meat-cutting through the grilling.
His home was known for family dinners and he celebrated his annual Name Day with a dinner party filled with Greek dancing among his wide circle of friends. He loved interacting with his colleagues at Lenkurt, gatherings with friends and family, and fishing from the waters off Half Moon Bay to Alaska, to the rivers feeding Lake Tahoe, and to his special sanctuary, a family cabin constructed near the shores of Donner Lake.
In 1987, while visiting in Greece, Harry suffered a stroke. Initially, Greek doctors were uncertain he would survive. But Emily stayed at his side around the clock and nursed him to a point where he could be transported home for further surgery, followed by additional rehabilitation.
Although he suffered permanent loss of movement in his right arm and some slurred speech, Harry nevertheless attacked his life, driven by a strong will and profound pride. He continued many of his social activities and travel, continued to reign over the souvlaki preparation for the Belmont Greek Festival and enjoyed his growing family of grandchildren. He loved driving and would start every day at one of several Redwood City coffee shops, where the staff ensured that his special seat would be reserved for him.
In later years, and as the strain of caring for him grew on Emily, they moved to Rancho Palos Verdes in Southern California to be closer to his son, George, and his family. Harry continued to take his daily drives to local coffee shops, until his declining health forced a cessation of those activities. Not long after, Harry’s health declined rapidly, leading to his peaceful passing amid the company of his family.
Funeral services are pending, due in large part to the circumstances surrounding the current pandemic. The family is planning a celebration of Harry’s life to be scheduled when shelter-in-place restrictions are lifted and there is a resumption of normal activities.
In lieu of flowers, please make donations to Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Belmont or Saint Katherine Greek Orthodox Church in Redondo Beach, CA. Please go to Lighthouse Memorials & Receptions website, www.lafuneral.com, to send the family messages and share memories.
Published in San Francisco Chronicle on Apr. 10, 2020.