A love of Greece and of the sea

Two Americans of Greek descent, each prominent in his own way, died last week. One, Michael C. Carlos, was described by the Atlanta Journal and Constitution as «one of Atlanta’s most colorful, yet private, businessmen and philanthropists.» He died in Atlanta on Saturday, aged 75. The other, John C. Maillis, was described yesterday by his local paper, the St Petersburg Times, as «a legend» and «the youngest sponge diver in Tarpon Springs when he started his career and the oldest when he ended it.» Maillis died on Friday, aged 84. Both men are to be buried in their American cities today. Each man played a unique role in his society, each was proud both of his Greek roots and his American citizenship. Each played a role in spreading knowledge of the world of his ancestors. Michael Carlos donated millions of dollars so that a local university museum could buy precious Greek antiquities. Emory University’s museum transformed a «rag-tag» collection, as the Atlanta paper put it, into the Michael C. Carlos Museum, with one of the most significant collections in the country. He and his wife, Thalia, had given the museum about $20 million since their first contribution in 1981. Three years ago, Carlos called a lunch with museum and university officials and, as they sat down, he said: «The millennium is around the corner, and we want to be part of it. In conjunction with that, my wife and I are pledging $10 million to the museum,» the newspaper said. John Maillis continued the tradition of his sponge-diving forefathers from the Aegean island of Kalymnos, being a mainstay of the diving population of Tarpon Springs, Florida. For Maillis, sponge diving was his life, the St Petersburg Times wrote. «He was just a plain, ordinary guy with a love for the sea,» his wife, Mary Maillis, of Tarpon Springs, told the paper. During a 67-year career as a sponge diver, Maillis became a local legend for his work ethic and his knack for finding sponges. He made his last dive when he was 81 and would have kept going but was stopped by a shoulder replacement and heart surgery, his wife said. Maillis was born in Gary, Indiana, but his parents took him to Kalymnos when he was six months old. When Maillis was 11, the family moved to Tarpon Springs, where many divers from the Dodecanese island moved early last century, taking with them the tradition skill of their forefathers. Maillis started diving when he was 14, following in his father’s footsteps. At different times he was a diver, a captain of his own boat and a captain for George Billiris, a sponge merchant and long-time friend. «John was a legend in his own time, and he was an inspiration to all new divers coming in,» Billiris told the St Petersburg Times. «He set many records for production over the years. He developed a very strong name in the sponge community and the community at large.» Billiris added that Maillis was «a very stern captain… He ran a tight ship.» Maillis made good money but kept diving because he loved the work, Billiris said. Sometimes divers would be away for up to 60 days, working from daybreak to dark. Billiris said that divers wanted to go with Maillis because he was so successful. «But he worked the hell out of them,» he added. Maillis died on Friday at the Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital. His funeral was to be held today at the St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Michael C. Carlos made his fortune in a different industry – the sale of wholesale wine and spirits. He was chairman and chief executive officer of National Distributing Co., which was founded by his father, Chris Carlos, in 1935, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution wrote. The elder Carlos moved to Georgia from Greece in 1900, part of a large wave of immigration at that time. Michael Carlos started working for his father when he was 5 years old. He never stopped, even though he had lung cancer for several years. Carlos only visited Greece for the first time in 1969, but he was very proud of his Greek ancestry and many of his donations illustrated this. Aside from the money for Greek antiquities for the museum that bears his name, he also donated money for a statue in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park to honor Greek Americans and the founding of the Olympics, and he contributed generously to the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation. «He was the greatest philanthropist that the Atlanta Greek community has ever had,» Lou Zakas, a lifelong friend, told the Atlanta paper. «His philanthropy was exceeded only by his love of Hellenism.» Despite his apparent delight at surprising recipients with large donations, Carlos stayed out of the public eye. But in 1980 the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America awarded him its highest decoration, the Medal of St Paul. In 1992 he was named Georgia Philanthropist of the Year. When asked why he was giving away so much money, he would joke, «I’m buying my way to heaven.» He is survived by his wife and his son, Chris Michael Carlos, and three grandchildren. His funeral was to be held at the Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Atlanta today.

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