A presidential honor for a lifetime’s service

It is always encouraging to see state recognition of selfless contribution, especially when the latter is aimed at promoting Greek culture and Greek studies and supporting Greek students with scholarships. This is the case with Matrona (Matti) Egon, nee Ksyla, of Chios. Her long years of devoted service, especially to the Greek community of London and the Orthodox Church, contributed to highlighting Greek values in Britain. In this column we have often mentioned the annual Runciman Lecture, instituted by her husband, renowned painter Nicholas Egon. With the help of Matti Egon, the lecture has – each February for the past 18 years – given outstanding academics the opportunity to speak about issues related to Greece at the center for classical studies at London’s Kings College. Since the 1960s, Matti has been doing volunteer work for the increasing number of schools run by the Orthodox Church bishopric and has worked with the young, the ill, and others in need. She also worked for the Hellenic Center, the Anglo-Hellenic League, the London Hellenic Society and the National Trust for Greece. Matti studied classics at University College, London. On Chios, she continued the work of the Homerion Cultural Center at Kardamyla which was established by her shipowner father Michail Ksylas and her mother Stamatia. She is a sponsor of the Mantzaros Philharmonic Orchestra of Corfu, the Athens Concert Hall and the British School in Athens, and is an active member of the Hellenic Society for the Protection of the Environment and Cultural Heritage. For this and much more, the Greek state honored Matti Egon with the presidential decoration Officer of the Order of Beneficence. It was awarded on June 25 at the Greek Embassy in London by Ambassador Vassilis Pispinis. At her side were her husband Nicholas Egon, her children, grandchildren, academics and British nobility. The ambassador held a reception in her honor at the embassy residence at 51 Upper Brooke Street. The only member of the press invited was yours truly. It was a joyous sight, the Greek family surrounding the mother and grandmother whose good deeds had been honored with a medal from the president of Greece. Present also were ambassador-counselor Constantinos M. Economides, general consul Maria Theofili and cultural attache Vana Solomonidou with her husband Keith Hunter, OBE. On the British side were former ambassador Sir Michael Llewellyn-Smith and Lady Colette, Sir Clive Bossom and Lady Barbara, Viscount Norwich and Viscount Bridgeman with their wives, and professors John Barron, Judith Herrin, Paul Cartledge and Dame Averil Cameron, the critic Edward Lucie-Smith and Ms Theresa Roberts. «I did nothing more than what my parents taught me: to be useful and to give of what I have to those who are in need,» Matti Egon said, surrounded by eight grandchildren, aged between 7 and 25. It was a sunny day inside and outside the Greek Embassy, where Nobel prize-winning poet Giorgos Seferis served as ambassador.