Marietta Giannakou, a former education minister and a veteran lawmaker with the country’s ruling conservative New Democracy party, has died at 70, the military hospital at which she had been treated recently announced Sunday.
Giannakou had had a history of health problems, including a recent fall at home, a heart attack six years ago and the amputation of a leg in 2008, due to complications from diabetes.
Giannakou, a neuropsychiatrist by training, came under fire when she served as an education minister from 2004 to 2007. The left-wing opposition vociferously objected to university reforms, while she also faced criticism from Greek nationalists, including many in her own party, over a 6th-grade history book that was considered insufficiently patriotic. In the end, both the reforms and the book were shelved.
Considered a moderate within her party, Giannakou was respected across the political spectrum. Tributes and expressions of sympathy poured out immediately.
“Marietta Giannakou was a serious and responsible politician, with a distinctive, moderate voice on foreign policy issues,” said George Katrougalos, a former foreign minister in the 2015-2019 leftist Syriza government.
“I am devastated in saying goodbye to our Marietta. A great woman, a good friend and an indomitable fighter. She never broke down, saying that difficulties had steel her. And yet, she lost the (latest) of her many battles over her health. It is not easy to accept that this personality, with her calm passion for life and public service, is no longer with us,” said Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
“Marietta Giannakou was a brave woman and politician with a restless and fighting spirit. She was always known for her moral character and her steadfastness to her principles, her ideals and a special, distinctive philosophy of life and the practice of politics,” said former socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou.
Born on June 6, 1951, Giannakou became active in politics early in the New Democracy youth wing. She served in the Greek parliament from 1993-99, from 2000-2007 and since July 2019. She was also a member of the European Parliament from 1984-1990, 1999-2000 and 2009-2014. She was Minister of Health, Welfare and Social Security from 1990-1991.
Giannakou is survived by a daughter.