NEW BEDFORD, MA – With the passing of Arthur J. Gartaganis, 95, of New Bedford, MA on January 23, 2021, our country and the Greek-American community lost a true patriot. Arthur (Athanasios) was the son of John A. and Maria J. (Moutsopoulou) Gartaganis, both from the village of Stemnitsa, in Gortynia, Arcadia.
Although born in New Bedford, Arthur came to know his parents' birthplace very well. But first came a time of trial only too familiar to young Americans of the early 1940's. Upon graduation from New Bedford High School, he entered service with Company G, 310th Infantry Regiment, and fought in the Battles of the Rhineland (including that of the Bridge at Remagen), the Ardennes, and Central Europe. Wounded in action, he received a Purple Heart and several other decorations, including the European-African-Middle Eastern Theater Campaign Ribbon, the Army of Occupation of Germany Medal, and the Victory Medal.
At war's end, Arthur earned an undergraduate degree from Harvard and served for three years in the U.S. Foreign Service in Athens (although the sequence of these events may have been the reverse). Subsequently, Arthur did graduate work in economics at the University of Michigan. It was in Ann Arbor that the authors, undergraduates at the time, had the pleasure of meeting him and spending hours in his company. (The brother of one of us, coincidentally, had already met Arthur at Harvard.) It was reflective of Arthur's innate modesty that he never once, in our innumerable conversations with him, made any allusion whatsoever to his wartime achievements, of which we remained ignorant until recently.
From Michigan, Arthur moved to Washington, DC, where he was employed for many years as an economist in the Department of Labor. There he had the important responsibility of preparing the monthly national employment report. It became his custom to spend part of each year in Greece, where his sister Christina lived with her husband Peter T Gargas.
Arthur loved Athens and his family village in Arcadia, and he could often be seen there tooling about in the Citroen 2CV that he bought while in the Foreign Service and sentimentally managed to keep running for decades. He made use of his time in Athens to assemble probably the largest private collection anywhere of published scholarship on the history of Arcadia; the booksellers of Athens knew him well. Rarely mentioned by him were the three research projects of his own that led to his publication of five volumes, three in English (a history of the Greek community of New Bedford in 2 vols., 1993 and 2000, and a history of the movie theaters in the New Bedford area, 2005); and two studies in Greek of the family names recorded in the villages of Stemnitsa and Dimitsana (Athens, 2008, 2009). On one occasion, breaking his habit of avoiding any self-congratulation, he referred to his history of the New Bedford Greeks as "a model of its kind" – and it is.
Arthur spoke and wrote Greek flawlessly. He was Greek Orthodox and an active member of the Arcadian Society of Massachusetts.
Arthur's life came to an end, much to our sorrow, on January 23 of this year, in New Bedford, just three days, tragically, after the death of his widowed sister Christina, 93, also in New Bedford, with whom he had spent his final years. Their funerals (his with military honors) took place on the same day, at the same cemetery.
Those who knew Arthur will remember him fondly as a colorful, multi-faceted American-born embodiment of the highest values cherished by the first large wave of Greek immigrants to this country. We will miss him. May his memory be eternal.
John J. Yiannias is Professor Emeritus of Art History at the University of Virginia
Peter N. Marudas is the former chief of staff to the late Senator Paul Sarbanes of Maryland