Angelos Georgiou (George) Xidias was born on October 3, 1952, in Chios, the main city on the Greek island with the same name. His father George was born in Smyrna, the ancient Greek city located at a central and strategic point of the Aegean coast. Today it is Ismir, Turkey. George was one of seven children. George’s family left Turkey during the exchange of Muslims and Christians in 1922 and started their new life on Chios. George’s father was injured and passed away six months after moving to Chios. As the oldest child, George became responsible for the family and had to be sure his sisters were married properly. Surrounded by water, with a history of immigration and occupation by the Genoans and Ottomans, the main occupation of males was the Merchant Marines. This was George’s work. Angelos remembers the emotional times when his father would leave for six to 18 months at a time. Angelos still has stamps and other valuables from the orient and around the world – souvenirs from his father’s travels.
As an only child, Angelos was raised with Greek Orthodox values by his mother, Stamatina, who treated him with “tough love” and expected him to use his God-given talents to succeed in life but to also make a valuable contribution to society. The Xidias family was deeply involved with church activities and in close relationships with extended family members. Angelos attended Karadion Elementary School, striving to be an “A” student and was encouraged by his mother to be the best that he could be.
In 1964 the family built a new house close to the Chios Arenon Gymnasion, a well-respected high school for boys only. Angelos keeps in contact with his symmathetes (classmates) to this day. In high school he was inspired by the book EPIC OF FLIGHT and he knew that he would pursue his dream of designing and building airplanes. As the post-World-War-II era saw a heavy emphasis on success through education in Greece, Angelos feels fortunate to have been educated during this period. He completed the very competitive examinations and entered the University at Patras where he completed four years of study in physics and mathematics. From there, he attended classes in England in aeronautics and astronautics at the Cranfield Institute of Technology. He then applied and was accepted by Stanford University in California and the University of Washington in Seattle. He chose Seattle primarily for its proximity to the Boeing Company and continued his studies earning his Master’s degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics in 1977. Angelos’ dream came true when he began working for the Boeing Company on February 27, 1980.
Maria or Mary Psillou was also born on Chios on December 5, 1962. Her father, Nikolaos “Niko” was a captain in the Merchant Marines, a source of employment for almost all of the men on the island. Maria lost her father when she was six and a half years old. Nikolaos had been at sea for two years and was preparing for retirement. While showing a ship owner a vessel in New Orleans, Louisiana, he was struck and killed by a falling crane. Maria’s mother, Arianthe “Agiro,” like Angelos’ father, was one of seven children, six boys and one girl. Her family was originally from Alexandria, Egypt, and moved to Chios via England from Smyrna, also during the Turkish/Greek exchange. As the only girl in the family, Agiro was very spoiled and wanted to raise her daughter Maria in the same strict and proper manner. As a single parent, it helped for Agiro to have her brothers around to help in raising her two children, Maria and George.
Maria attended the all-girls elementary school in formal uniform and was in junior high school when she first met Angelos. The families knew each other and their homes were only one block away from each other. However, her uncles were very protective and made sure Maria and Angelos did not spend much time alone together. While Angelos was in Seattle, they corresponded for some time by mail and an occasional phone call. When he finished his studies at the University of Washington, he returned to Chios and proposed marriage to his beautiful young neighbor. Their wedding took place at St. Christos Church on Chios on January 3, 1980.
One month later Maria was in Seattle with her husband, excited and in love with the man whose life she could finally share. She had previously traveled to Athens to visit relatives at Christmas, but never outside of Greece. It was both scary and exciting for her. Angelos had told her about Seattle and his plans to return to Greece, something Maria appreciated as she never thought she would live outside of Greece. But, nine months later, pregnant with their first child, she returned to Chios and gave birth to Tina, named after Angelos’ mother Stamatina, on September 28, 1980. Just 12 days later, Maria and her mother returned to Seattle with Tina. Two more children were born: George, named after his paternal grandfather, on November 11, 1981 and Nicholas, named after his maternal grandfather, on March 20, 1985.
While Maria understood and spoke English, the American dialect was very different from the British English she had learned in Greece. She would watch Mr. Rogers, the children’s television show, as a daily lesson since he spoke slowly and she could learn from his measured speech. As Maria had not finished high school in Chios, she completed her GED (General Equivalency Diploma) and began assisting the teachers at her children’s school and attended PTA (Parent Teacher Association) meetings. When her youngest son, Nicholas, began school she applied to the Lake Washington School District and became a teacher’s assistant. She also enrolled at Bellevue Community College (now Bellevue College) where she completed her Associate of Arts degree. Maria then transferred to the University of Washington where she earned her bachelor’s degree in international studies in 2005 and her master’s degree and teaching certificate in 2008. She now teaches ESL (English as a Second Language) courses to elementary students in the Lake Washington School District. She is very pleased to have accomplished her goal of becoming an educator but also appreciates the summer off so she can spend time with her family in Greece.
Angelos’ recollection of his first time on an airplane is vivid. That flight from Chios to Athens was less than exciting for him as he flew to visit his father who was recovering from an eye operation. However, he was fascinated as previous trips took eight to ten hours by boat and he was now making the trip in under an hour. It was like a miracle where bits and pieces of material are put together to create a flying machine. While he has operated many air simulators, his preference is the engineering and design part of the work where safety, aeronautics, fuel efficiency and the internal working of engines is the focus. He recalls the emotional experience of watching a Boeing 747-400 taking off at the end of the runway during flight testing in Moses Lake, Washington.
Angelos’ work at the Boeing Company initially focused on the performance, aerodynamics and engineering of the Boeing 727-200. He recalls when a plane was lost in Washington D.C. due to ice accumulation on the wings where the lift and thrust was not sufficient to launch the aircraft. He was then part of an extensive study on the effects of “contamination” from both the ice and the ice-removal materials. Using the wind tunnel at the University of Washington, he and his colleagues were able to design improvements. No similar incidents have occurred since that time. He received a “pride in excellence” award for his leadership in that effort. For the next seven years he worked as an aerodynamics performance engineer and project manager. When a plane was lost in Dallas, Texas, due to wind shear, he led the study that contributed to design improvements in the flight director system which provides guidance to pilots when wind shear conditions arise. Again, he is proud that no similar accidents have occurred since that time.
Angelos remained with the Boeing Company until 1987 when a friend found him cooking kalamari (squid) at the St. Demetrios Greek Festival in Seattle and mentioned an opportunity to work for the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). Although happy with his position at Boeing, this was a new opportunity to oversee the certification of airplanes and he accepted. Within two years he became manager, overseeing the certification of all new Boeing airplane models as well as the system improvements on existing models. Angelos led the effort for the rudder redesign of the Boeing 737 following an accident of a US Airways plane in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This work provided improvements for over 3500 airplanes which have been retrofitted to avoid future accidents.
In 2009 Angelos established a new FAA group, the Boeing Aviation Safety Oversight Office, which certifies and validates airplanes around the world. He works with aviation authorities in Europe and China among others to insure the safety standards are met and the Boeing airplanes are operated safely in that country’s airspace. Another example of issues addressed by his group was the problem with the overheating of lithium batteries in the Boeing 787 where approval of the redesign was required by the FAA. Angelos remains excited and challenged while working with new technologies and being at the forefront of aviation developments around the world.
THE GREEK CONNECTIONS CONTINUE
With over 35 years of living in Seattle, Angelos recalls his first days there, waking up to cloudy and rainy days at the other end of the world from Chios. It was a strange feeling of separation: a mix of excitement to learn something new and the emptiness of leaving something behind. When Maria joined him they initially connected with St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church knowing they would meet patriotes (countrymen) there. They also met Ted and Maria Kaltsounis (see CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN) at an AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) event who would become the nouno and nouna (godparents) for their daughter Tina. Angelos took Maria on many walks, outings and weekend get-a-ways to introduce her to the area.
Angelos and Maria have a “Greek House” where they maintain the culture, language and especially the food as part of their everyday lives. They have “hundreds” of Greek relatives, not only in Greece but in England, New York, Chicago and California. Both are very active at St. Demetrios, Angelos having served as president of the parish council. He has also been involved with AHEPA which gives him a sense of brotherhood with those of similar background. Angelos and Maria believe the Church and the Greek ethnicity have helped each of these elements historically and the inclusion of both in their lives has been enriching. Two of their children attended the University of Washington Hellenic Studies program which Angelos helped to establish, participated in the Greek dance groups and attended Greek school classes at St. Demetrios. All three children speak both Greek and English having learned from their parents, from their grandparents who visited them in Seattle and during their own visits to Greece.
Angelos and Maria feel fortunate to have grown up in the Greek educational system. They are proud of the principles of democracy and science in their Hellenic heritage which has given them an “added value” to their education and experiences in Washington. It is not just the feta cheese, souflaki (skewered meat) and summer sunshine but a deeper identity which allows them to engage with American society and work toward a better future.
If they had remained in Greece, they would probably be living in Athens, working for a Greek company and enjoying trips to Chios more often. Their relatives have experienced severe financial cutbacks recently and, with fewer opportunities, their life in Greece continues but on a more limited basis.
Angelos remembers his mother saying kali fotisi (good light) or, if God enlightens your life you can make better decisions. He was frequently encouraged to give something back to others, to love one another and not to take things for granted. Maria knows that if people love each other and work hard, they can keep a stable lifestyle and live well. Angelos and Maria are both extremely grateful for the friends in their church and, while they left a large loving family in Greece, they now have an equally supportive “family” in Seattle. The best of both worlds.By John and Joann Nicon, July 2016 VIDEO SEGMENTS
1 Angelos and Maria, 2016
2 Angelos with his parents, 1960
3 Angelos and his father George, 1972
4 Angelos, 1976
5 Maria, 1976
6 Angelos and Maria wedding, 1980
7 (l-r) George, Tina and Nicholas Xidias, 1988
8 Xidias family (l-r) Angelos, Nicholas, Agiro, George, Maria, Tina, late 1980s
9 Xidias family with Santa (l-r) George, Tina, Angelos, Nicholas, Maria, late 1980s
10 Angelos in his office, 2016
11 FAA award, 1991
12 First delivery of Boeing 737 (l-r) Lynn Thompson, Allan Mulally, Angelos, Jeff Duven, 2004
13 Airplanes and Greek culture combined, 2016
14 Maria and Angelos, 1989
15 Xidias family in Greece (l-r) Tina, Angelos, George, Nicholas, Maria, late 1980s
16 St. Demetrios Award, 1989-1990
17 Maria with co-workers (l-r) Charlotte Cole, Sharon Ofner, Maria, Nancy Dunlap, Barb Troublia, Betty Auerback, 2000s
Photos 1, 10, 11, 13 and 16 by John Nicon; all others from Xidias family collection SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, January 2016