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This Week in History: January 29 to February 4

January 29th:

On this day in 1941, Ioannis Metaxas, the Greek general and dictator (1936-1941) died at the age of 69. After active service in the Greco-Turkish War of 1897, Metaxas completed his military training in Germany at the Berlin War Academy. He distinguished himself during the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 and was eventually promoted to lieutenant general in 1916. Throughout his military career, he always supported the monarchy over the republic and was a big supporter of King Constantine I. During World War I, he unsuccessfully tried to maintain Greek neutrality and opposed the plans of Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos for the conquest of western Anatolia – accurately predicting the military catastrophe that inevitably took place. Metaxas held a variety positions in the Greek government and founded the Freethinker’s Party in 1922 and eventually served as Prime Minister of Greece and then Greek Royalist dictator. To this day, Metaxas remains a controversial figure – reviled by some for his dictatorial rule and admired by others for his patriotism and defiance of aggression with his great “OXI!” to Mussolini.

February 2nd:

On this day in 1946, Constantine (‘Taki’) Papadakis, the Greek-American businessman and academic president of Drexel University, was born in Athens. He graduated from the National Technical University of Athens and then went on to get his master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Cincinnati and a doctorate from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He was an immigrant whose life and career are an extraordinary example of the Hellenic attributes and values that enrich society in America. In 1984, Dr. Papadakis agreed to head the Colorado State University’s civil engineering program – then the second largest in the nation. He went on to become the Dean of the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering. Finally, he served as president of Drexel University in Philadelphia from 1995 to 2009 where he doubled the university’s enrollment, quadrupled freshman applications and grew the endowment from $90 million to $550 million and research funding from $14 million to $105 million. Taki was taken from life too early after battling lung cancer for months – at the age of 63 – from pulmonary complications due to pneumonia three days after taking medical leave from Drexel.

February 3rd:

On this day in 1830, the sovereignty of Greece was confirmed in the London Protocol. The London Protocol was an agreement that formalized the independence of Greece from Turkey, which was won by the Greeks as a result of the Greek National Liberation Revolution of 1821-30. The Protocol declared Greece to be a fully independent monarchical state. Greece’s independence was guaranteed by the Great Powers (Britain, France, and Russia) which participated in the Protocol and stated that Greece would be under their protection. It has been said that it was at the insistence of Great Britain, which was not interested in overly weakening Turkey, that Thessaly, Crete, Samos and a number of other territories populated by the Greeks were not regarded as part of Greece yet.

Also on this day in 1908, Panathinaikos, the major Greek multisport club based in the city of Athens, was founded. The name of the club, which can literally be translated as ‘Panathenaic’ – meaning ‘of all Athens,’ was inspired by the ancient work of Isocrates, Panathenaicus, where the orator praised the Athenians for their democratic education and their military superiority. However, the original name of the club was actually Podosferikos Omilos Athinon (Football Club of Athens). It was founded by Giorgos Kalafatis as a football club when he and 40 other athletes decided to break away from the Panellinios Gymnastikos Syllogos following that club’s decision to discontinue its soccer team. According to the PAO website, it appears to be the first football-specific club in Greece. Panathinaikos’ emblem is the clover, a symbol of harmony, unity, growth, nature, and good luck. Today, they wear green and white; ironically, during the first two years of its existence, the PAO colors were red and white – the colors of its current rival Olympiacos.

Finally, on this day in 1989, John Cassavetes, the Greek-American actor, film director and screenwriter, died at the young age of 59 from cirrhosis of the liver. The younger of two sons of Greek immigrants, Cassavetes was born in New York City. Shortly after his birth, he moved to Greece where he spent his early years. When he returned to the United States at age 7, he spoke no English. His family moved to Long Island where John grew up and attended public school in Port Washington. He later attended Mohawk College and Colgate University before enrolling at the New York Academy of Dramatic Arts, from which he graduated in 1950. Cassavetes was known for being one of the pioneers in the field of independent cinema and even self-financed several films. The income he earned from his acting career gave him the financial freedom to create his own legacy in the independent film genre. He worked in over 75 films during his career as an actor – including Rosemary’s Baby, The Dirty Dozen, and Love Streams. All three of his children followed in his footsteps and became renowned filmmakers themselves.

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