NEWS

Old age can’t stop success

The Academy of Athens has decided to nominate the first man in the world to acquire a PhD in criminal law in his 70s for membership in the prestigious institute. Evangelos Patzalis, known throughout Greece as the man who decided to embark on his university studies at the age of 70, has been called the Patzalis phenomenon. After a meteoric rise up the university ladder with the acquisition of five degrees in just twice as many years, the old man with the spirit of a teenager is now to enter the halls of the Academy of Athens. The highest academic institute in the land has unanimously nominated him for the chair of Public Law at the Academy of Athens. He is probably the only Greek to embark on a university career as a senior citizen and went on to collect such a sheaf of degrees as to be worthy of the honor bestowed on him by the members of the Academy. An example to society Mayors all over the country, when informed of the Academy’s decision, deluged Kathimerini with enthusiastic telephone calls. Letters in support of the nomination spoke of what an example to society this man is and how he has demonstrated that the will to learn never grows old. It was not possible to contact Evangelos Patzalis but an old friend and colleague was on hand to provide information. The source of the strength which drove him to academia at an age when most people give up was that Patzalis had made it his life’s goal to become an example of the love of learning and to prove that people at any age can do anything, provided they want to. This goal gave him courage. His life was storm-tossed. He joined the air force as an officer in 1940 and did 6,500 hours of active duty in 2,300 missions. While he himself calls four of these death missions, he survived. He received various medals as well as the UN award of Ambassador for Peace. He was discharged from the army in 1967. Student career When his career as an officer came to an end, he took up key positions in companies. He married and has two sons who today are academics at American universities. The desire for learning was unshakable. At the age of 70, when most of us let body and soul fall into decrepitude, opportunity knocked. Quite by chance, he discovered his student identity card in a drawer. In his youth, he had succeeded in entering law school. Although he had enrolled, he never attended classes as he’d been inducted into air force school. The dusty ID card motivated him to continue his studies. Thus began the academic career which led to his nomination for Academy membership. At the University of Athens Law School, he broke all previous records. He completed his studies in four semesters, in two years, that is. Upon the conferment of his degree, pandemonium broke out. By burning the candle at both ends, he diligently worked on his next goal, a master’s degree in criminal law, which was followed by a doctorate in the same subject. He also acquired a degree in economics from the University of Athens and a degree in social theology from the same institute. During this period, he had to undergo surgery on his lower legs, health problems that were a legacy of the torture he had suffered while in military service. But this proved no obstacle. He followed up his already amounting degrees with a second doctorate, this time in theology, graduating summa cum laude. Academy recognition These achievements roused the interest of both ordinary people and the Air Force Academy, which proposed that the Academy of Athens examine the possibility of making him a fellow. Dr. Patzalis’s work gained him the esteem of the Academy members, who decided to nominate him for the chair in public law. But the significance of the decision lies more in the fact that Patzalis began his career at an age when it could bring him little benefit, though it has made a contribution to society which benefits many.