“A cheerful heart is good medicine” – Proverbs
ANNAPOLIS, MD – Like the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes, Andre Pantelides has the right stuff. Sporting a populist appeal, fueled by his unshakable Orthodox faith, he enters the ring against the serpent.
Born and raised in Maryland’s historic capital city, snug on the breezy shores of Chesapeake Bay, you sense that the likable Greek-American is on a first-name basis with every weather-worn sailboat captain and every delectable blue crab – the centerpiece at relaxing summer feasts dotting the world’s largest estuary.
A lifelong member of Saints Constantine and Helen church, he knows hardship. And he knows how to embrace it, to nurture it – as a vehicle for enriching his Christian walk. Alexandra, the youngest of his four children, was born almost 30 years ago with spina bifida. It’s a condition that impacts the spine and typically appears at birth. It can occur when the backbone that shields the spinal cord is unable to close properly while in the womb. Fewer than 200,000 cases are reported annually in the United States.
“Oh, my God, how could this happen?” he said, recalling his initial reaction upon hearing about his daughter’s condition. “We didn’t know about it for several hours after she was born.” Pausing to unpack that soul-crushing event, he continued about how “it’s hard enough to know what to do with a normal child. But what do you do with a disabled child? I figured we could take care of her, and we learned day by day.”
Applying the example set by his immigrant father, Pantelides is hard-wired for hard work. While helping to raise his family, he learned the jewelry business, bringing other Greeks in as he went along. For 13 years, he commuted 40 miles each way to Virginia and a jeweler there. On those long drives in DC traffic, “I carried a plastic cup in the car” for ‘nature calls’. Other jobs included ownership of Heavenly Doughnuts, giving it that name as a way of glorifying God.
As Alexandra continued to grow, surrounded by a legion of supporters, Pantelides was wrestling with other challenges. He went through a divorce. He lovingly leaned in as his son, Savvas, ran afoul of the law, serving prison time for conspiring to commit armed robbery. Tragically, Savvas died of a drug overdose at 31. Earlier, Pantelides lost his brother, Nick, a one-time lacrosse player at the Naval Academy, to cancer.
Meanwhile, he confronted his own health issues. “In late August, I had a triple bypass surgery. I had to wait until October, on the 13th, and I had the cancer operation on my back. I lost 70% of my left arm. And then my son died on the 16th. It was tough.”
Through his life, Pantelides, whose first-cousin, Michael, was the former mayor of Annapolis, has never forgotten his homegrown roots. His late father emigrated to the United States from Cyprus. Settling in Annapolis, he enjoyed the maritime culture and was instrumental in bringing other family members there, helping them set up their own small enterprises. Many of his relatives, he recalled, “didn’t know how to cook on a stove. When they went to Safeway and saw chicken already made, they were in heaven.”
His father, meanwhile, owned the Royal restaurant, which built a strong sturdy reputation for home-cooked food, bottomless coffee cups, and lively gossip. “I was six-years-old and ringing up the cash register,” he recalled with pride. “I was 10 and watching the waitresses so they wouldn’t steal.”
The family restaurant drew local media attention after it became the first business in town to serve Blacks. Pantelides remains colorblind. Many of his Black friends, he emphasized, say “I’m not White, I’m Greek!”
As he nears 70, he isn’t just sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away. Pantelides remains an involved dad, carving out time to take Alexandra to her doctor’s appointments, to the beauty parlor, etc. Always followed by cherished father and daughter lunches. All this while working at a nearby jewelry outlet.
He feels blessed that he and his ex-wife are co-parenting in a spirit of cooperation. And while his older girls are grown and on their own, he’s there for them as well, dispensing sage advice and learning to know them as adults.
Rolling up his shirtsleeves, he volunteers at church festivals – and leads the hasapiko at Greek dances.
Pantelides one to sugarcoat things, however. “God’s put me through so much $&*#. Then, without melting into a puddle of self-pity, he added, with the steely defiance of a hungry prizefighter, “bring more on! I can beat the devil!”
So claim a ringside seat and watch this hometown hero, blow by delicious blow, hurl the devil into the lake of fire.