BOSTON – One of the most prominent businessmen and philanthropists of the Greek-American community, George Behrakis, from the historic city of Lowell, Massachusetts, has granted an interview to The National Herald. He spoke about the pandemic and the vaccines, the pursuit of a pill for COVID-19, and his antismoking crusade in Greece, which has reached a success rate of thirty-seven percent.
The entire interview follows:
The National Herald: How did you do this past year with COVID-19?
George Behrakis: I think everyone was affected. When you are a grandfather and a grandmother with small grandchildren, you feel very sad because of the confinement that it caused. Teachers had to teach from a distance, children had to stay home. The elderly and people with underlying health conditions were the ones affected the most and basically, we had to take great care with our hygiene: wash your hands, don’t touch people, don’t communicate, stay away from people.
It took a year and one half, and the problem is that when you are confined when you have never been confined before, it affects you mentally, psychologically – you have to fight to get over it.”
TNH: Did you get the vaccines?
GB: Yes, my wife and I both took the two doses of the vaccine, all my children and my older grandchildren, too.
TNH: Which one did you have?
GB: We both had the Moderna.
TNH: Is it good?
GB: Yes, it is excellent. As are the Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson – which is one dose. They have found out that that are effective with the variants from around the world: Africa, India, Great Britain, South America. People should have more confidence in the vaccines.
TNH: How was it not to be able to see your grandchildren?
GB: Very difficult – they would come by in the car, they waved, we talked – it was very difficult because some of my grandchildren are small and others are in college. The older ones understood, but for the younger ones, it was difficult. Fortunately, it all has come to an end and now we see them.
TNH: Are you back to normal? Do you travel – are you going to be traveling abroad?
GB: I will possibly start this Fall to travel abroad.
TNH: What do you think about the virus? Was it manufactured – did it escape from the lab in China?
GB: Basically, I am very disappointed with Washington because we have excellent people on the food front at the Food and Drug Administration, we have the CIA – but no one is saying anything. We have some of best intelligence agencies in the world, but they have become too political. It doesn’t matter if it is Republican or Democrat in the White House. The appointees have become very political, and they are not answering questions, and when they answer them, they answer strictly on a political basis. Where have they given money – China? We have been told that we may have given money to that research facility in Wuhan, China. The problem we have is that we didn’t know that they were working to create a virus. What else can they create? Look at what is happening with cyberattacks in the United States. They hacked the oil industry, they hacked the transportation infrastructure, and we were once superior on all these fronts.
We don’t need to cut the defense budget in this country. We have to be very cautious because we have enemies out there that are trying to destroy us indirectly, to change our system and the way it works. This is a free enterprise system in America, a democratic system – and we have it keep it that way. Certain people have become power hungry. Also, they are becoming wealthy without working. Look at the millionaires in China, look at Russia’s billionaires – but what about the people who are dying from hunger?
What bothers me a lot – and I am in the health business – is that most of the ingredients used by the pharmaceutical industry in America are coming from China and India. Most of the generic antibiotics are manufactured in China. Most of the generic medicines such as those for high blood pressure, cholesterol, for fighting infection are made in India, and that’s a disgrace. How can it be that the United States – which has the most intelligent scientists creating new drugs, more than any other country in the world – has to buy the active ingredients from foreign sources?
TNH: What do you hear about the progress on a pill for the coronavirus?
GB: I think it will be a great success. With the technology that we have in the hospitals, the medical and pharmaceutical industry, I think we will create a pill to be taken for the coronavirus. My concern is that they are working on – and I hope and pray that they are not – another virus for the years to come.
TNH: How do you feel about the success of your antismoking crusade in Greece? I understand it has reached thirty-seven present.
GB: Yes, on Memorial Day we just had a big meeting. It has been a great success. A lot of people had said that it was going to be failure, but as far as I am concerned, I have no interest in failure – I am interested in success. I grew up in the Greek Community in Lowell; my mother and father came from Greece and although they didn’t have two nickels we never were out of food, clothing, a place to sleep. Everything was terrific. We always said we were going to be successful thanks to education. They did not only teach us about religion – we all went to Greek and Sunday School. They taught us the history of Greece, which is very important and they taught us all these things in Greek.
We have to teach our grandchildren. I have grandchildren in high school where they are teaching them about democracy. My grandchild called me and said “papou you told me that Pericles was the father of democracy,” and I said “yes.” “Well, my teacher said democracy really started in Egypt and Babylon and I am afraid to say anything because she might cut my grade.” I went to a bookstore in Boston I bought a book and I sent it to the teacher without a name on it. I just sent it. The next day she said “yes, Pericles was the father of Democracy – I really should have explained it further.”
TNH: Do you have an opinion about the resignation of George Cantonis from the presidency of Hellenic College Holy Cross?
GB: I was very shocked with the resignation because Cantonis is doing a good job. He finally got the accreditation back and that is very important, but I am glad he withdrew his resignation for the good of the School and the Church. The School of Theology is very important for our Church – but we need to reevaluate Hellenic College. It should a Triple college, the best center for Greek Studies, and it should have a waiting list of students.
TNH: Did you read your friend’s Tom Demakes recent interview with TNH?
GB: Of course. I loved it.