AN EVER-PRESENT GREEK ECCENTRIC
George Beaman Kotolaris (1929-1990) was a notable figure in Seattle, Washington. He was known to attend almost every Greek social and cultural event, especially where food was served. Beyond that, he frequented most other ethnic, social and religious venues in Seattle. He often appeared uninvited to private funerals, weddings, anniversaries or parties. He usually took photos, although many witnesses believe that his camera never had film in it. He was almost always accompanied by his mother, Pansy Edith (nee Beaman). While his eccentric mannerisms and dress were not readily accepted by many in the Greek community, he was nonetheless someone whose memory will be eternal in the minds of most older Greek and Greek-Americans in the area.
George’s story is presented here using three Internet sites which are cited in the SOURCES at the end of the piece. Each is included as written.
LOVE AND AFFERICATIONS, By K. Thor Jensen
George Kotolaris was born on August 20, 1929, the son of Harry Tico Kotolaris, a prosperous Greek fish merchant, and his wife, Pansy Kotolaris, a mentally disturbed former cafeteria owner. Not much is known about George’s early life. He lived in a two-story Victorian house in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood and attended a nearby high school for a few years. Sometime in the late 1940s, he was diagnosed mentally ill and unable to work. After that, he spent most of his time at home with his mother.
His father died suddenly of a heart attack in 1953, leaving George and Pansy alone. For some reason, they started crashing social events. Uninvited and unwanted, they attended weddings, funerals, store openings, and election rallies–often more than one a day. George always dressed in a second-hand dark suit and yachting cap. Pansy was usually bundled in overcoats and flowery bonnets. George snapped countless photos of his mother posing with dignitaries, mourners, newlyweds and officials of the Catholic church. The two also collected memorabilia wherever they went, frequently taking a piece of cake, wrapped in newspaper, home with them. The cake was never eaten–just stored in the house, which became so crowded with their possessions, including Pansy’s hats (she owned more than a hundred), and George’s sixteen pianos and organs, that mother and son were confined to the upstairs.
Sometime in the mid-60s, George and Pansy began investing their limited resources in real estate; buying and selling valueless plots of land in the Seattle area. These investments never made much money, but they ultimately allowed George to create a strange, disjointed autobiography within the legal records of Washington State.
Whenever a parcel of land is bought or sold, the title deed is recorded on 16mm microfilm in the county courthouse for future reference. No sale of property is considered valid without a recorded title deed. In theory, the deeds are supposed to be very simple: they must list the buyer and seller and contain a legal description of the property. And that’s all. But George discovered that, due to a quirk of the law, anyone who pays the nominal per-page fee (currently $7) can record anything they want as a “title deed.” So George immediately began using this recording system for purposes that were never even envisioned, much less intended, by the county planners who had instituted it.
Beginning in 1968, he and Pansy traveled to the courthouse almost every business day with newspaper clippings, church programs and other items they wanted preserved. These early recordings are vague, but they establish some of George’s major obsessions: Catholicism, abortion, cremation and urban renewal.
The nature of the recordings changed after Pansy suffered a stroke in the early 70s and was placed in the Columbia Lutheran Nursing Home. The newspaper clippings are replaced by what appear to be letters and notes to whoever will listen, documenting George’s struggle to get Pansy out of the nursing home, and asking for help.
In 1974, George filed a court case against the State of Washington alleging that Pansy was being mistreated in the home and demanding she be released. With no legal training, George’s “case” consisted mostly of color photographs he had taken of Pansy in bed, strapped to the toilet, or watching television. With the help of a prominent Greek lawyer, Harry Platis, mother and son were eventually reunited. By this time, however, Pansy was 86 years old, had been diagnosed with diabetes, and was in rapidly declining mental health. George had only a few more years left with her. She died in 1979.
Cut loose from his only responsibility, George drifted from boardinghouse to boardinghouse. He had little or no money and frequently signed his Social Security checks as “George Nutey” or “George Incompetent.” He became involved in numerous relationships with other mentally retarded men, complicated by his fervent Catholicism and distaste for the “gay act.” If he had one true love during this period, it was Bill Rosene, whom George would often visit at Western State Hospital, south of Seattle. George and Bill lived together for a while in a low-income apartment, but that didn’t last. Afterwards, George lived for stretches in an unheated concrete basement and in the lobby of a church. He went out less, but still continued to record papers at the courthouse, commemorating important dates such as Pansy’s birthday with pages of his writing.
As time went on, George’s recordings grew more sexually explicit, and officials at the courthouse censored many of them by placing sheets of paper over his text when they filmed it. Because of this, the last years of his life are maddeningly vague. What is known is this: in 1989, George himself became sick. He was having trouble breathing and had developed elephantiasis in his scrotum and a painful hernia. He was hospitalized for a short while in January of 1990.
Released from the hospital, George took all of the cards and letters in his possession down to the courthouse and recorded them all in one day. It cost him over a thousand dollars; they cover almost an entire tape of microfilm. It is his last recording. He died three days later.
George’s writings remain on tape, for all to see, and will probably be there forever (or at least as long as the microfilm system is still used for referencing papers–and that’s going to be a long time). What follows are some selected recordings from various points in his life. No spelling, grammar, or punctuation has been changed. The entire collection of George Kotolaris’ work, consisting of almost a hundred thousand pages of recorded material spanning nearly thirty years, is publicly available through the records department of the King County Courthouse in Seattle, Washington.
NOTE: The photograph below of George’s mother, Pansy Edith (nee Beaman) and the accompanying description was obtained from an E-Bay site.
You are bidding on an original press photo from 1976 featuring January 20 …. for two weeks now, George Beaman Kotolaris has been calling about January 20. “Put a story in the paper, run her picture,” he pleads. “It’s her birthday.” A few days ago, George dropped off some of the pictures he wanted in the paper. They were all of his mother, Pansy Edith (nee Beaman) born January 20, 1889. They show the old woman in bed last summer at Seattle General Hospital. She does not look well. Pansy always was a frail-looking woman, but in these pictures, she appears much weakened by old age and a stroke she suffered. She had to be fed oxygen. It’s not the Pansy thousands of people remember. For two decades prior to December 1973, when Pansy was injured in a fall and entered one of many nursing homes that from then on would take care of her, George and Pansy were a Seattle institution.
A Story about George, by Rev. Carol Ludden
This is a story about George. For those of you outside the city limits, George is a Seattle Institution. He is known to go to all the important weddings, funerals and church services in town.
He is a regular at the annual silver tea given at the Bishop’s house. Some say an event isn’t an event if George doesn’t show up.
George isn’t always welcomed. He is not on peoples’ guest lists. His suits come from second hand stores. He often carries a camera and takes pictures at awkward moments. He makes embarrassing comments – the kind that we might secretly like to make but have been taught not to say.
I love George. He came to the ministry two years ago, slightly chagrined because he did not attend my ordination in the Market despite extensive coverage by the news media. “I can’t believe I missed it” he said. Since then we have become one of his regular stops.
When George became a part of our lives, I all too quickly cut off his remarks. Now I listen. If I can get past the first few sentences, more comes up.
One conversation began with a discussion of the vestments worn by Bishop Cochrane and Archbishop Hunthausen, not a hot topic on my list. As I was about to stop him, he said that he had seen Archbishop Hunthausen that day. George said they had walked together for a while and the Archbishop was kind to him. I stopped to listen.
The afternoon that followed had not been easy.
George had gone to an open house, given by a member of a church he regularly attends. The parishioner hosting it had extended a general invitation to everyone in the parish.
George had not been allowed inside. Instead he was told that he could come back after the party – perhaps there would be food left over. The hurt was written all over his face and in his eyes.
“You know, it’s not the food,” he said. “It’s really not the food.”
Yes, George, I know that it is not the food. It is that deeper longing which we all have to be known and welcomed. To have a place at the table. We want to believe the promise of Jesus in the Gospels. We want- to believe the promise of the Eucharist. There is a place for all who come.
When George shows up, plans are put into action to see that “inappropriate” behavior does not happen. His very presence makes us uncomfortable because we are being asked to allow into our lives, our churches, our festivities – the unpredictable. It threatens our vision of what something ought to be. What we thought was in our control suddenly is not.
When George shows up, barriers go up. He reminds us of those who we find difficult to welcome. Those who are different from us, Those parts of ourselves which question our own place and presence.
When George shows up, people have to make decisions about their own behavior. Decisions most of us don’t like to make. Shall we truly welcome him? Ignore him? Ask him to leave? Talk to him? Listen to him? It is more comfortable to make these decisions based on our notions of what a person ought to be. Ought to look like. How he or she should behave.
George is unique. But he is also not unique. Most communities have their equivalent of George. A person almost everyone can identify, yet few really know. People who don’t stay hidden, People who remind us of the pain in our society. People who remind us of the lonely, the poor and oppressed. People who asked us to be recognized and given a share of the good things of the earth. The people the prophets spoke of in the Old Testament. The people Jesus lived among. Spoke with. Touched. Healed. To receive George is scary.
To receive George is to challenge many of our basic preconceptions. To receive George is to enter his life, share in his sufferings and recognize his gifts.
To receive him is to be a place he can bring his friends, people he cares for and ministers to. People who others call crazy, who are struggling for purpose and meaning in their existence. People who find living too difficult, who are hungry or who are looking for God.
To receive George is to learn that we have much to learn. To discover that those whom we discount have gifts to give us.
I have many stories about George. He has taught me a great deal and I am thankful for his presence among us. I don’t want to romanticize him. He can be maddening at times, slightly devious at others.
Last year, he announced several weeks ahead of time that his birthday was on a certain Wednesday. We planned a party, complete with lunch and a cake. Later, as he was leaving, George said “You know, today is not my birthday, yesterday was.”
I ran after him. “Why did you tell me it was today, George?”
He looked over his shoulder as he scurried away. “You’re closed on Tuesday,” he said.
You’re right George. Thanks for coming.Compiled by John Nicon (February, 2018) PHOTOS
1 George, date not indicated
2 Caricature of George, August 20, year not indicated
3 George circa 1978
4 George circa 1978
5 Pansy with Mayor Wes Uhlman (others unidentified) at Seattle waterfront, 1976
Photo 1 from Olympia Churchman, 2 from K. Thor Jensen, 3 and 4 from Weird Universe.com, 5 from Seattle Eccentric PressSOURCES
http://deadword.com/site1/habit/kotolaris/index2.html by K. Thor, June 1995 (This site also contains links to several of George’s writings)
Olympia Churchman, Seattle, November 1986