Nicholas Econopouly
August 4, 1924- December 11, 1999

Matt's letter to Dorian.....

Dear Dorian,

Just wanted to let you know that my Dad passed away last Saturday. He was 75. I don't know if you ever had him
for a teacher but he made a difference in the lives of many of his students. He was also responsible for the period at ACS that I refer to as the Golden Age, being a major factor in the hiring of such teachers as Jack Marlowe, Bruce Hunt, Mr Shoemaker, Ron Davenport, and some others. He also was a factor in the creation of the Middle School system, the library-media center, the humanities department, the village project and the teachers pension fund.

He and Dr Dorbis were locked in mortal conflict over the direction the school should take and he finally resigned in frustration. Need I say more?

My father was probably the worst enemy of the right-wing republicans, the Christian Coalition and people like Jesse Helms and they never realized it. Through his method of getting students to ask questions until they arrived at the right answers he probably created more liberal democrats and free thinkers then any man alive, and many of them grew up to be teachers too. My father was above all an educator. He saw education as the salvation of mankind.

In his life after teaching he became a thorn in the side of developers, republicans and golfers through his letters and editorials in the Albequrque, New Mexico papers. He was also instrumental in getting the hospitals there to try alternative treatments for cancer, found through his own research while fighting the disease himself.

I think towards the end he began to realize that the forces of ignorance and greed were winning the war and that our society was in big trouble. Whether he was right or not remains to be seen but there is evidence that he was.

In the end he used his efforts to keep himelf and his wife Angela alive. Both had been diagnosed with cancer and he launched himself into a study of the disease and its treatments. Finally his body could not overcome the damage the disease had caused. He died in his bed with his wife Angela at his side. His last words were to her.
"I love you", he said and died.

My father and I were antagonists to each other when I was young. I took his liberal views for granted, (didn't everyone believe in peace and equality and civil liberties?) I fought him on issues like the length of my hair, drugs, my lousy grades and other important things. I remember that when I was around 10 years old I was interested in gangsters of the twenties and this bothered my father. There were enough heroes around that I did not need to worship hoodlums. He gave me a copy of Profiles in Courage to read. There were not enough pictures but I read it anyway.

My Dad was a great fan of JFK. We stood in the rain in Hicksville Long Island wiating for him to drive by during the campaign of 1960. He never showed and we left but we passed him going in the opposite direction on the parkway. JFK became my hero. My brothers and sister would play PT-109 and I would be the young handsome JFK, rescueing them from the icy waters of our bedroom after our twin beds were cut in half by a Japanese destroyer. When JFK was assasinated we walked to the American embassy in Athens to see the flag at half mast. The streets were deserted and it seemed like all of Athens was in mourning. I think it was.

Many people don't realize that my father made himself into a Greek. Or he reclaimed his Greekness. As kids growing up we barely knew we were Greek. We lived away from the rest of his family and only saw his Greek parents occasionally. I never knew that my Pappoo and Yaya were the equivelant of my Grandma and Grandpa on my mothers side. Nobody ever told me. But when my grandparents died my father suddenly embraced his Greekness again, re-learned the language and moved us to Greece for a year in 1963 and then returned to Greece from 1968-1974, a period corresponding to the years of the Junta.

When my father retired he moved back to Greece where he had an apartment, dated, drank retsina in his favorite tavernas and helped his buddy Chip Ammerman at the Fulbright Foundation until they had a falling out, something that happened to my father and a few of his friends. This is when I really got to know him. It was not until I could sit across from him, refilling each others glasses with retsina, that I got to know him as a person and not as an obstacle.

As happens to some people my father got fed up with Athens and left, never to return. It was strange for me to hear this because I remember the day he got his voting card that made him a resident of Agia Paraskevis and a true Greek citizen. It was like a Greek getting his citizenship in America, only my father made a joke of it.

I remember when he left Greece for the last time that I was leaving for Athens the next day and we got a call to pick my father up at the airport. We thought that something bad had happened but he had just gotten fed up with the traffic, and the red tape that made doing anything in Athens an exhausting task. I ended up not going that summer.

I went for almost 6 years without seeing him when he moved to New Mexico. We talked on the phone every so often but he hated the humidity of North Carolina and I think the thought of visits here filled him with a sort of dread. There were at least four or five trips east that my father had to cancel due to health reasons or snowstorms. I was sort of angry that my daughter was growing up without a Papoo, but I understand that my father had created a new life for himself and Angela and maybe we didn't fit in. Anyway as great a teacher he was I don't think he was ever totally comfortable as a Dad. Possibly due to his own father being sort of distant and unapproachable as many Greek fathers are. My father was not a bad father. He didn't beat us or psychologically abuse us. But I don't think he took the time to understand what we were all about as people, until we were adults. But that's OK because some people never get to know their kids. My father was just a late bloomer and as I mentioned before, in my case he could not really know me until I was old enough to drink and we could use retsina to get around our defenses.

When I found out he died I was sad, but I was able to deflect my true feelings with humor. But when I went to New Mexico with my sister and brothers it was a life changing experience and I felt sorrow at a depth I had never known before. To be in his ofice, in his house, in his world, without him in it filled me with a sadness about missed opportunities and the painful realization that I am more like my father than I ever knew. The last few moments I sat in his office petting Cassie, his 3 legged dog, I wanted to hang on to this sadness. I did not want to leave, because the sadness was all I had left of my father and I felt that once I left his home and got back on a plane for North Carolina, that life would go back the way it was and my father and the pain in my heart, which was all that remained of him, would drift into the background and get fainter until it disappeared forever.

Wrong. It was when I got home that I realized what a good friend I had lost and what an important part of my life had just ended. I felt like I had lost my soulmate. My world seemed empty. I felt like a guy who had been waiting for the Messiah but did not recognize him until after he had gone because he was too busy with his job and making a living.

But the biggest realization is that despite my rebelling against him, education, and even the fact that he took me away from my Long Island lifestyle and friends to some God-forsaken place called Greece, here I am educating people about Greece. I used to joke that everyone in my family became a teacher except me, but suddenly realized that somehow I had become a teacher too and through the wonders of the internet was reaching more people in a year than my father reached in his life. Well it's a matter of quantity versus quality. I educate people about their vacations while my Dad educated them about their life. I will rarely meet my students face to face while my father was with his, face to face every day. But nevertheless, if his goal was to have children that give something positive to society through the medium of education, I guess I fit into that category.

Anyway...I miss him. People who have not seen him in years miss him. In the words of his old pal Jack Marlowe "He was a good man-though difficult at times. I think my father would have taken pride in that description. If you had to describe him in a few words that would probably be it. Good-though difficult at times. You could also throw in funny, warm, engaging, and stubborn. But above all he was a teacher. He loved teaching. Even when he was no longer paid to teach, his conversations were lessons, disguised as discussions or even complaints.

Many of the letters of consolation we get are about the Christmas holidays and the unfortunate fact that his death came so close to them. While this is a sad time for us we know that my father disliked the Christmas season for all its phoniness and commercialism. So we won't have to suffer through memories of my father putting the star on top of the christmas tree or leading us in christmas carols. In fact when I think of my father's sentimentality (or lack of) during the Christmas season it makes me laugh. I certainly miss him, but the Christmas spirit does not come to mind when I think of him, so the prospects of a merry Christmas for us this year is a good one.

I am more bummed out that he missed the year 2000 by only twenty days. But then again that would not have made a difference to him. Y2k is most likely another opportunity to scare people into buying a bunch of stuff they don't really need and an opportunity to make bad movies and write articles about what might happen. An opportunity for the businessmen to exploit and an excuse for the idiots to go wild. It's not too hard to be cynical about the new Milenium so in that sense my father will be missing out.
But I bet he would have gone to bed early that night.

Have a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year


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