CULTURE

Death of legendary shipowner and philanthropist Yiannis Latsis

Shipowner, industrialist and businessman Yiannis Latsis, who died this week in Athens at the age of 93, played with ships, oil, banks and property like beads on a «komboloi». The boy from a humble family in Katakolo in the prefecture of Ileia, long outlived his rivals Stavros Niarchos and Aristotle Onassis. «Io sono il duce di Katakolo,» he would say to Italian officials, who used to pore over the map to find the place. From a young age he worked as a boatman to help his father Spyros feed the family of 16 children and their mother Aphrodite. He married a Pyrgos girl, Erietta, who remained devoted to him to the end. He now leaves to his son, Professor Spyros Latsis, a fortune that will put him among the world’s richest men, a position for which Spyros abandoned an academic career in the USA. The three siblings – Spyros and his two sisters Marianna and Margarita – gave their parents a total of 10 grandchildren. To them, he left a letter urging them to work hard if they wanted to make progress and get rich, his own motto for success. Another of his characteristics was his sociability – he mingled with royalty and political leaders whom he invited to his magnificent home in London, or onto his yacht, the Alexander, for Aegean cruises. He talked with them as equals. They didn’t care, as long as they had the friendship and support of such a powerful person as Yiannis Latsis. Margaret Thatcher, John Major and even George Bush Sr and his wife Barbara have been guests at Bridgewater House in London. Prince Charles, first with Diana and then after her death with his two sons, spent holidays aboard the Alexander. His children have carried on the tradition, but it was Captain John, as he liked to be called in order to recall his life as a seaman, who turned it into a fine art. His other trait was his famous generosity, particularly in health issues, in helping earthquake victims and in providing technical and vocational training for ethnic Greeks from northern Epirus, now in Albania, to honor his parents’ origins in that part of the world. Helbi herself was witness to one incident. At an annual presidential reception to mark the restoration of democracy, then-President Constantine Karamanlis came out into the garden and wondered where the photographers were. «Yiannis Latsis has just arrived and they’ve all gone over there to see him. As soon as they’ve finished, they’ll be back,» he was told. Two great patriots, a politician who marked the history of his country, the other a man determined to raise the country’s economic standards, both self-made men, now give their places to their heirs. Certainly, they will be remembered for all their special qualities.