NEWS

‘I had crossed my Rubicon, aware there was no going back’

The Greek employees at KTA had been very carefully selected, and it was a delight working with all of them, men and women alike, as well as with the Americans. The atmosphere was cordial, relaxed and informal. The American were experts in their respective fields, and friendly, likable people. Most of them were cultivated, and I saw some of them at the Sunday morning concerts of the Athens Philharmonic in the Orpheus Theater on Stadion Street. Mr Varney, a distinguished-looking elderly gentleman with white hair, noticed me working late at night, and advised me to emigrate to America, or, since the Greek quota was filled for the next ten or twenty years, alternately to Canada that had a different immigration policy based on actual needs for immigrants by selected professions. I was not overly enthusiastic about leaving Greece, but just to appease Mr Varney, I finally visited the Canadian Consulate on nearby Anagnostopoulou Street, and completed the necessary forms. I was unaware of some important advantages in my favor, namely being single, healthy, employed by an American company, speaking good English, having an engineering profession, substantial finances (thanks to late-night overtime work), and, most important, having committed myself to work anywhere in Canada. Most immigrants limited themselves to Montreal or Toronto where they had relatives. I could not believe my ears when, on August 19, 1954, I was summoned to the Canadian Consulate and was offered an immigrant’s visa on condition to arrive in Canada by September 30. It was a shock when I suddenly realized what a project I got myself into. I forgot the shock when I had to obtain a new passport, a permit from the military to leave the country, making travel arrangements to the small town of Amherst in Nova Scotia – which I remembered from my school days as New Scotland – saying good bye to dozens of good old friends and relatives, getting suitcases, closing down my work at the office, and settling my finances. The last suitcase was packed in the small night hours of my departure day. Foolishly, I spent an early hour at my old desk, saying the last of the last goodbyes, and taking care of unnecessary details; all signs of excitement and nervousness. At 9.30 a.m. I rushed home, took a taxi and boarded the ship in Piraeus a short time before sailing. I was accompanied by my father, who was very sad to see me go and be left alone, my uncle George with his wife and their two children, the older one, my godson Tony, absorbed in, of all things, a comic book, and my good friend, a German girl whom I had known for many years. Soon, after the noon hour, the ship blew her whistle, the mooring lines and the gangway came off, the ship’s screws started churning the water, and I acknowledged the waving hands of my people at the pier below. I had crossed my Rubicon! By working at KTAM I had been lucky to have found an international, world-class employer with fair and friendly people. The association opened my eyes from a sophisticated, familiar, but small country to a world-wide vision of unimaginable personal and spiritual and professional opportunities that eventually led me to work in America, Europe, Asia and Africa, all the continents except Australia. Thus came to an end my 1,198 days with KTAM. I had begun as an insecure, young man and I now left confident of mastering the hardships and the loneliness sure to come (and come they did) in the distant lands and among unknown people. I was aware that I had burned my bridges behind me, there was no return. I was sad to leave so many good friends, relatives and the only city I knew so well, perhaps never to see again. But I also felt for the first time an overhelming surge of boundless energy, strength and determination to succed. Such must have been the feelings of the ancient Greeks, the Phoenicians, the Israelites of the Exodus, and the people of many nations who colonized America and the other continents in the past, who faced risks and hoped to survive. This intense feeling lasted for about two years before gradually receding when my life settled into comparative normalcy. This was my globalization fifty years before the term became a household word. It is now time to come to the end of this story, but accidentaly I found that Mr Kirpich lives in retirement in Florida with his wife. When I took the single, fateful step to the KTA door fifty years ago, Mr Kirpich helped with a nod in my direction, resulting in my being hired. Neither he nor I could have predicted the result these two little actions would produce fifty years ago today. Time to say: Hello Phil, hello Billie, and many thanks!» Epilogue All good stories need an epilogue, here is mine. I spent eleven months in Canada in two «entry» positions, note the emphasis. Eleven months after leaving Greece I moved to the USA and worked for six-and-a-half years at the University Architect’s Office at Ohio State University in Columbus. I passed the state board examinations as a professional structural engineer in several states and became a member of the ASCE. My main work from then on was in structural design and construction management which commanded higher salaries and allowed me world-wide employment. A year followed in the private office of a Yale University professor of engineering in Connecticut. We moved to the Washington DC area in 1963 and I was with the Bechtel Power Corporation in specialty fields for nuclear power stations in the eastern US. At that time, Bechtel was the world’s largest engineering and construction company; their London office was the general consultant for the consortium building the Athens Metro. My love for travel took me to Haiti (assistant project manager for the Port-au-Prince port rehabilitation, Saudi Arabia (twice) as quality control manager and principal engineer for Computer Sciences Corporation on a $250-million project, Nigeria (telecommunications satellite station), Germany (military housing at Grafenwoerth), and finally to a soft job as quality control manager for concrete and soils at the Washington National and Dulles airports before retiring in 1990. I married a German girl and we have three daughters, all fine women and professionaly successful. We are the very happy grandparents of 3-year-old Lucas for whom we do frequent babysitting. We live in Bethesda, Maryland, near Washington DC. I am very interested in European and German history after the time of the French Revolution of 1789, and participate actively in symposia and conferences where I have face-to-face talks with, among others, Chancellor Schroeder, several defence ministers, prime ministers of Laender, members of the Bundestag, ambassadors, of Germany, as well as with former secretary of state and commander of NATO, General Alexander Haig, and Stuart Eizenstant, deputy secretary of state. I am busier than ever, and enjoy my life. Again, many thanks, Phil!