Greek-American Historical Museum of Washington State

GREEK IMMIGRANT MEETS SOUTHERN BELLE

George and Diane Pirotis’ son, Stavros, has enjoyed a mix of cultures and accents, from his father, a Greek visitor to Seattle in 1977 (and a USA Citizen since 1982), and his mother from a long-standing South Carolina family. Their common values and strong faith have offset any differences in their heritage.

GEORGE’S STORY

George Stavrou Pirotis (Γιὠργος Σταὐρου Πυρὠτης) was one of seven children born in Trikala * of Thessaly, Greece, on May 1, 1948. As tradition indicates, their son Stavros is named after his grandfather Stavros Efthymiou Pirotis (1905-1969) and his middle name is that of his father. Stavros (the grandfather) was from the small village of Matsoukion, (originally Karyes), meaning “Walnut Trees”. The village is so high in the mountains that when the Turkish authorities attempted to collect taxes they could not overcome the topography or fierce resistance from the locals. George’s mother, Eleni Elias Tsantouli (1912-1994), was born also in Matsoukion. Eleni, was a typical Greek widow who wore a black dress every day. However, she had an open mind and wanted to experience different ways of life. After she came to live with George and Diane, she adopted very well to American life.

TRIKALA: *For the third consecutive year the Municipality of Trikala belongs to the 21 Smart Cities in the world. http://greece.greekreporter.com/2010/10/23/trikala-belongs-to-21-smart-cities-in-the-world/
* For a small town, Trikala certainly is a city that thinks big. Located in the central Greek area of Thessaly Trikala has been consistently pursuing the status of a ‘smart city’, one vested in technology and innovation that ameliorates life in the community. https://neoskosmos.com/en/112608/trikala-becomes-first-5g-city-in-greece/

In 1947 Stavros Efthymiou Pirotis’ family moved to Trikala of Thessaly, where George Stavrou Pirotis was born in 1948, just before the end of the Greek Civil War, 1946-1949. Those days were hard for everyone. However, George’s father was a resourceful and hard-working man and always provided for the family. Still, life was hard and George, as all the kids of his neighborhood, had to come up with practical athletic games and activities to entertain themselves and shape their character and body. They believed in what their ancestors (ancient Greeks) were preaching – A healthy mind in a healthy body (νοῦς ὑγιής ἐν σώματι ὑγιεῖ). George remembers the hard times, however, enjoyed the sense of fellowship, friendship, neighborhood, creativity and a clear sense of identity. There was no money but there were good friends. He remembers creating soccer balls with paper and playing outside. While listening to a small portable radio, he discovered the value of oral communication to describe an event and to communicate, skills he found useful in later life. George is the youngest of seven children: Kostas, Evangelia, Pantelis, Antigoni, Efthymios, Evangelia and George. The first Evangelia died at a young age. Two of the siblings still reside in Trikala. Stavros (the father), was a cheese maker with a commercial factory in different areas of Greece and his sons Kostas and Pantelis, helped him in the business.

After elementary school, George completed high school a mile and a half away from home. From 1970 to 1976, he had the good fortune to study architecture in Florence, Italy. Fortunately, his sister Evangelia was in Dusseldorf, Germany, where her husband operated a mini market and George made frequent visits there to work in the store. George is always grateful for their help during his studies in Florence. At his arrival in Italy, he spoke no Italian but had a strong desire to learn the language. He credits his curiosity and listening to Italian radio stations (mainly songs), to learn the language. In addition, the high quality of his education in Greece enabled him to achieve that. His village dialect (vlahika) was commonly spoken by his neighbors and, was very similar to Italian. The language came quickly to George and within three months in Italy, he was also teaching the language to others. In the fourth year of his Studies, he even reached the position of assistant professor (of Architectural Composition I, Class) in the School of Architecture in Florence  under the direction of the professor Juliano Majora.

In 1976, George’s brother Pantelis living in Winnipeg, Manitoba, sent him a ticket to visit. He liked the country and the people in Canada but the cold weather and flat terrain made him want to return to Italy. Then he and his brother’s family took a road trip west to Vancouver, British Columbia, and south to Seattle, Washington.  George is always thankful to his brother for that! In Seattle, George connected with some friends from Trikala, from whom he met “this beautiful lady” and abandoned all thoughts of returning to Europe.

George’s life is summarized in the following poem of Kavafy – “Σα βγεις στον πηγαιμό για την Ιθάκη (Φιλοδοξἰες, προσδοκἰες και σκοπὀς της ζωἠς), να εύχεσαι νάναι μακρύς ο δρόμος, γεμάτος περιπέτειες, γεμάτος γνώσεις. Τους Λαιστρυγόνας και τους Κύκλωπας, τον θυμωμένο Ποσειδώνα μη φοβάσαι, τέτοια στον δρόμο σου ποτέ σου δεν θα βρείς, αν μέν’ η σκέψις σου υψηλή, αν εκλεκτή συγκίνησις το πνεύμα και το σώμα σου αγγίζει…” (On the way to Ithaca (goals of life), hope for a long journey, full of adventures, full of knowledge. Do not be afraid of the Lestriggen, the Cyclops, and angry Poseidon, you will never find them in your way, if your thoughts are high and if your emotion is touching your spirit and your body), meaning set high goals in your life, take your time, don’t be afraid, …and one day you will reach your goals and expectations in life! This is George’s life, he grew up in Greece, studied in Italy, visited and worked in Germany, visited Canada and the USA. Life’s long journey can be very rewarding if it is full of adventures and knowledge (να εύχεσαι νάναι μακρύς ο δρόμος, γεμάτος περιπέτειες, γεμάτος).

DIANE’S STORY

Elizabeth Diane (nee Jameson) (her baptismal name is Stergiane after George’s maternal grandmother) was born in Easley, in the “upper country” of South Carolina, on March 30, 1948. Her father, Ansel, one of 12 siblings, served in World War II and operated a Gulf service station while her mother, Kathryn, one of six siblings, was a first-grade teacher. Diane is the oldest of four sisters; Judy, Ginger, and Susan.

With a huge extended family, with deep roots in South Carolina, college was a “given” but leaving the area was a shock for her father. She was 22 years old and after graduating from Clemson University in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, she wanted to know what was happening in other parts of the world. To satisfy her desire to travel she left South Carolina to visit friends in Los Angeles, California, and there she became a flight attendant with Western Airlines (merged with Delta in 1987) and was based in Seattle.

In October of 1976, she attended a gathering with another flight attendant, Diana, who was married to a George Pirotis’ friend from Trikala. Despite their different and unique cultures, George and Diane found their core values and close family relationships to be very similar. It was there that George made his decision to remain in the United States and he and Diane were married on March 25, 1977. Diane says that if she has known that it was Greek Independence Day, they might have chosen a different date.

Attending church was also very important for George and Diane. In December of 1978, George and Diane were married at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption in Seattle, where they became very comfortable and where they participated in almost every segment of church life for the next 12 years. George served on the parish council for two terms and the couple was directors for the GOYA (Greek Orthodox Youth of America) group at the Assumption in 1978 and 1979. George served as chairman of the “March 25th Celebration” held at the St. Demetrios community hall in Seattle for more than five years. This event was co-sponsored and supported by the three Greek Orthodox Churches in the Seattle-Tacoma area and by the AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) organizations of the Pacific Northwest.

Their son Stavros was born on October 16, 1979. When he began school, his teacher admonished him to speak only English instead of Greek which was his first language at home. In Seattle, he served as an altar boy and participated in the Greek folk dance program. However, commuting from their home in Federal Way, Washington, to the Church several times per week became very difficult. That’s when they began attending St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Tacoma, Washington, and continued their activities. George reactivated the March 25th Celebration in Tacoma, served as a member and as vice-president of the St. Nicholas parish council and as a member and president of the Building Committee. Also, for five years he served as Chairman of the Greek festival at St. Nicholas. He presently is the teacher at the St. Nicholas Greek school program, Greek Dance Director (for the Leventia Dancing Group), Premarital Advisor for the St. Nicholas Church, member of the “Vitos Scholarship Committee and a chanter (part of the St. Nicholas Church Choir Group). As a member of AHEPA for many years, he has served as president of the AHEPA Chapter #A178, District 22, and president of the St. Nicholas Church Vitos Scholarship Committee, for few years.

In Tacoma, George met Panos Koumantaros, who had also studied in Florence, Italy, and the two became family fast friends. When George made a suggestion about the Greek folk dance program, he was quickly made co-director with Maria Koumantaros, a position which he occupied for the next six years. Their dance group “Elliniki Neotis” won first place at the Greek Folk Dancing Festival, in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1994. In addition, their group won numerous “costume” and other awards during this time. Diane was often away at work while George spent much of his time with Stavros. She loved her job of flying until the glamour of air travel began to fade. It became more of a job and less fun and, with the tragedy of 911, retirement became an option. So, when offered a generous retirement package and partly due to illness, she happily ended her flying days in 2001 after 31 years of service.

GEORGE’S WORK

One day in 1978 when Diane was leaving for Miami, Florida, George announced that he would find a job (his first job in America) that day. He began from the south in Tacoma, stopping at every architectural firm on the way north to Everett, Washington. Fortunately, a stop at the Austin Company in Renton, Washington, brought him good fortune. The company needed some international experience and, despite his limited English, George’s Italian and Greek languages made the difference. When told to begin work the following week to coincide with the pay period, George insisted he begin the next day, even without pay, because “I told Diane I would find a job today.” George used his energy and willingness to learn along with his observation skills to emulate the best architects in the firm and, within a few months, his position was secure. He assisted with the construction of the Tanagra NATO Air Force base in Greece. He also worked on the renovation of several Boeing Company buildings and  the first passive solar energy Bank in Kennewick, Washington.

In 1982 George and several other architects were laid off. He was subsequently called back to work but refused as he desired a more predictable position. Stavros had been born and Diane was working most weekends. So, George created his own company, Olympic Design, and Construction, which he operated for a couple of years. In 1985, he joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, based in Anchorage, Alaska, which lasted six months. During this period, George would fly to Alaska on Sundays after Diane got off work, spend four long days working and return on Thursdays nights to stay with their son Stavros. The same year, he was transferred to the Seattle District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and worked in the Engineering Division, Review and Technical Support section. For the next five and one-half years his work involved mostly military construction at Fort Lewis, McCord Air Force Base (now Joint Base Lewis-McCord or JBLM), at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, and the Chief Joseph Dam, which is the second largest hydroelectric producing Dam in the United States and the largest producing Dam operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

In 1991, George joined the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in Renton, Washington. He held a succession of positions, including Project Architect, Lead Project Architect, Project Manager, General Engineer, Design, and Construction Manager, and Manager for Platform (Section) Operations in 2004.

In this position, George was responsible for the establishment, improvement and sustained support of Airport Traffic Control Tower (ATCT) and Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facilities, as well as the electronic systems housed within them. All projects were unique and very challenging in their own way and George and his team got many Government, State, and Private Industry awards! One of his projects the Seattle TRACON was awarded the “LEED Gold Certification” by the United States Green Building Council on May 19, 2004. George oversaw the designing and construction of all plants related to work associated with these facilities such as mechanical and electrical support systems, environmental control systems, security, and safety systems. He was recognized as an outstanding contributor to the success of the SeaTac TRACON project and received several awards for his work, such as the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT)-FAA “Administrator’s 2002 Environmental Excellence” award, for “Environmental Excellence in FAA Operations,” the “2002 FAA Regional Administrator’s award of Environmental Excellence” the “LEED Gold Certification” award, the “2004 Department of Energy Player” award, and he was also nominated for the “2002 FAA National Honorary Awards for Excellence.” George also received the 2005 “Closing the Circle” Presidential Award at the White House in Washington, D.C. After nearly 24 years at the FAA, he retired with fond memories of all his jobs.

AFTERTHOUGHTS

George values his Greek Orthodox faith and its powerful connection to scriptures and traditions which are passed down by the Holy Fathers. He believes that an “all English” Orthodox Christian Church would lose much of its meaning. As a Greek language teacher, he finds that many of his non-Orthodox students grow to love the Greek language. Also, exposure to the faith through attendance at St. Nicholas’ Greek festival has brought converts to the Church. He also believes one must study and learn both the “Holy Traditions”- (Paradosis) and the “Holy Scriptures” to benefit from the faith.

For Diane, her faith has expanded through Greek Orthodoxy, a blessing of marrying George. Presently Diane is the Vice-president of the St Nicholas Philoptochos (womens’ auxiliary), premarital advisor, chairperson of the welcoming committee, member of the AHEPA Family Daughters of Penelope, and chairperson of the “Philia Group.” For many years Diane served as member and vice-president of the Parish Council, member, and vice-president of Philoptochos, In 2012 Diane was given a plaque by His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos “in honor and recognition of her exemplary stewardship.”

For George, being Greek has been an asset both at work and in his social and athletic activities. Had he remained in Greece he believes his ambition would have led him to work as a teacher. He does believe his success and promotions in work have come from his determination, integrity, ambition, good communication, trying to understand before he would be understood, personality, honesty, and his hard work. He had no expectations or plans for a life in America. Everything good just happened to him with God’s blessings and the Divine Providence.

By John and Joann Nicon with George Pirotis;  (date when posted)
 
VIDEO SEGMENTS
 
PHOTOS
1 Diane and George, 2017
2 Kostas, Pantelis, Evangelia, Eleni (mother) and Eleni (paternal grandmother), in Greece, 1941
3 Trikala, Thessalias
4 Matsoukion Athamanias, Ipeiros.
5 Trikala certainly is a city that thinks big
6 Stavros and Eleni Pirotis (George’s Parents) date not indicated
7 George with his sister Antigoni and their uncle Baggelis Kostadimas – circa 1954
8 George’s Degree in Architecture, from the University of Florence, Italy, 1976
9 George, 1972 in Florence, Italy
10 Diane newspaper article, 1972
11 Sisters Virginia Ann, Elizabeth Diane, Judy Gale and Susan Faye Jameson, 1980
12 Diane’s Delta Retirement Plaque, 2001
13 Presbyterian wedding; Diana Giannoulas, Diane, George, Pantelis Pirotis, 1977
14 George and Diane at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, Tacoma, WA. 2013
15 Baby shower at Assumption, (l-r) Front: Steve Kapp, Eleni Pirotis, Marianne Bratsanos, Diane, Fr. Nick Krommydas, Presvetera Eleni Krommydas; Rear: Lydia Kapp, Eleni Athans, Angela Soukas, Anda Soukas, 1979
16 Stavros and George, 1985
17 Stavros, circa 1995 – Member of the Leventia Dancing Group of the Church of the Assumption, Seattle, WA.
18 Diane, Stavros, George, 2009
19 Greek-American soccer team, included are Theo Kalasountas, Panagiotis Kalasountas, Unknown (British), John Varlamos, Unknown (Yugoslavian), Unknown (Yogoslavian), Bill (British), Unnkown (British), Basil Denaxas, Alex (from Katerini Greece), Chris Zervas, Angelo Pamboukas, George Pirotis, George Kalasountas, Chris Pamboukas, Kostas Matos (little Peter Kalasountas ) Angelo (Mexican) Unknown (British), 1982
20 Pantelis, Eleni (mother with three of the sons), George, Kosta – circa 1980
21 Salt Lake City’s, UT. Air Traffic Control Tower – Designed and Build 1992 to 1998 – One of George’s major project’s as Lead Project Manager at the FAA
22 Seattle TRACON (FAA’s project) poster with photo inset of George’s team: (l-r) Stephen Chapel, George, Mark Brandewie, Jon Ikeda, Pat Walsh, 2001
23 George with coworkers:(l-r) Mark Branewie, David Powers, George Pirotis, FAA Administrator and White House Official, Receiving one of the awards, 2004
24 Diane’s Stewardship recognition – by the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of St. Francisco, CA., 2012
25 Diane and George, 2015
SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, July 2017; Journal of ATC, October-December 2004; biographical information from George Pirotis