Nikos Mouyiaris, one of the finest members of the Greek diaspora, who passed away on Saturday in New York, was a great example of money and success meeting humility and caring.
A prominent businessman with numerous philanthropic contributions, he cared deeply about Greece and Cyprus. Those of us who had the good fortune to know him saw in him the best of the Greek-American community.
Over the past three decades, I witnessed his warm personality, his humanity and his morality. His intentions were pure, his offers to help those in need, or his beloved Cyprus and Greece, genuine.
His ideas were not the abstract expression of some unattainable utopian vision. There was a lot of realism injected into them. He had specific proposals. And plans. He wanted to change things for the better – and he did.
He always responded to requests to raise money for a wide variety of causes, without seeking public attention or any kind of rewards for himself.
I remember him from the 1990s, always being at the forefront of efforts and initiatives for our causes: From fundraising events to support candidates for governor, senator or congressman, to the most popular Greek hangout in Astoria, the taverna Vraka, and to meetings with presidents in the White House, and lawmakers in Congress.
Notwithstanding his participation in numerous organizations, Nikos Mouyiaris was disappointed by the Greek-American community’s inability to change and exploit its economic power (the second richest community in America, according to some surveys) and use its intellectual influence (ranked by many as first in the level of education) to help Greece and Cyprus in the geopolitical and economic spheres.
It was his thirst to do something tangible, to change things for the better that led him a few years ago to found the Hellenic American Leadership Council, which, in a short period of time, succeeded in exerting political influence and gained access to Washington’s decision-making centers.
He drew lessons from the experience of the Jewish community with which he himself kept close contacts for decades, also promoting Israel’s cooperation with Greece and Cyprus, not just now but in the past, when it was not so popular.
“I’ve been in America for over 50 years. I saw many of us succeed in what we chose to do. Professionals, academics, scientists, businessmen. Some also excelled in politics. As persons we succeed. Regretfully, however, I see that organized Hellenism is declining. Associations and federations are in danger of extinction. They are not capable of attracting our youngsters, our many incredible young professionals,” he had told me in an interview a few years ago. He was sad but also angry, and what made him stand out was that he not only saw these shortcomings, but acted to improve them. He contributed a lot of his time and money to that end.
He was a humble man who wanted to see Cyprus unified and Greece stand on its feet again.
He will be missed immensely, both as a personal friend, but also – and more importantly – as a fine Greek American who proved his love for Cyprus and Greece with deeds, not just words.