Eulogy of Konstantinos A. Tantaros
Delivered by Andrea Kostantina Tantaros
St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral
December 10, 2009
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I looked up the synonyms for the word "extraordinary" in a thesaurus, but none of them was in any way sufficient to accurately describe the true measure of Konstantinos “Harry” Tantaros, as a businessman, as a father, as a grandfather, as a husband, as a brother, as a friend to so many of you, and, finally, as the relentless force of nature, who swept into all of our lives and that has now left all of us much too soon.
I’m uncertain that I can accurately capture the full measure of our personal sense of grief and overwhelming sense of loss within the family. There are no words for that.
Nor can I do full justice to his struggles, by adequately describing the challenges and sacrifices that he made during his seven decades' journey on earth.
A description cannot convey how completely organic was his sense of identity and the larger-than-life personality that always filled and uplifted every room he ever entered.
He also projected an overwhelming assuredness about anything and everything to do with the business of getting on in life. His certitude never wavered, no matter the challenge.
When most people would have folded, he pressed on because he optimistically believed that he’d triumph through hard work.
That tendency to accept a challenge and run a risk, was enhanced by the decisive way that he made decisions – in business, and in every other sphere of life.
It was that determination and decisiveness which served him well on a stormy night in the
Harry’s born optimism and passion for life willed his 13-year-old body to swim through the long hours of darkness to finally reach shore, on a night when all the others drowned.
It was that acceptance of risk and hunger for opportunity and adventure that prompted him to, so confidently, leave behind his tiny
He saw much of the world during his seafaring years, but eventually, he decided upon a new home.
He arrived in the
His life then was long hours working in a restaurant for extended family for no pay.
But his optimism sustained him and helped him to persevere when times were so tough.
You ask, “How bad was it?”
It was this bad: He had nowhere to live. And he was so desperate to succeed, at any price that he set up shop in a cardboard box, down in a diner’s boiler room. But he wasn’t discouraged – frustrated, maybe, but not discouraged.
It was this bad. He once tried to wash his underwear in a bucket back in the kitchen, but, unfamiliar with the right ratio, he disproportionately used far more bleach than water.
After a long soak, when he finally lifted the trunks from the bucket, only the elastic waistband remained.
He looked up and exclaimed: “God, how poor can I be? I don’t even have underwear.” It didn’t matter. He had his mind made up and he knew his dream.
Despite the temporary discomforts he faced, he was always happy to be here and grateful for an opportunity to succeed in
We’ll never forget Harry’s decisiveness. And we’ll always know in the decades to come, know how to respond to adversity simply by asking, “What would Dad do in this situation?” Because we know intuitively exactly which road he’d take.
Well, maybe not exactly. Some of the things Harry did no one could have anticipated.
The midnight-shift cook at the Pied Piper diner, for one, didn’t expect to meet Harry after midnight.
He had been throwing out the potatoes when no one was looking, so that he wouldn’t have to peel them.
He never expected to find my father waiting for him inside the dumpster on that cold January night, when dad jumped out and caught the cook right in the act.
That story, and so many others, will keep us laughing for decades when we think of his quick wit and unique delivery.
This exceptional sense of humor, as expressed through his comments and constructive criticism—often unsolicited—made the pill of tough love easier to swallow.
Granted, given his manner of expression, his love was less likely to be delivered to you in a figurative Tiffany’s box than it was dumped in your lap with a back-hoe, but that, occasionally, rough and colorful means of transmittal certainly didn’t diminish the depth of his feelings for people.
He delighted at the chance to help someone. He always remembered the words of his father. My grandfather’s directive, was if you can do good for someone, do it.
My father always took that suggestion to heart.
His acts of generosity are too numerous to list, but I'd like to share one, in particular, with you.
When a family in the Greek community was facing foreclosure on their home, and did not have a car, Harry reached out to them.
He gave them my mom’s car, gave the dad a job in one of his restaurants, and then spent days to help train him in every aspect of the operation from dishwashing to cooking.
Eventually, he placed them in one of his fully staffed and operable restaurants, so that they could get back on their feet. That was Harry. He’s helped many more families put bread on their table.
His heart was just as big as his personality, his drive and intolerance for mediocrity, as evident as his work ethic. He would never hire anyone for a job that he could do himself, or that he could outsource to one of his children. For this, I am truly grateful.
He was fiercely loyal and pushed his kids to work as hard as he did, for he knew that if he could build our endurance, we would never go hungry.
He had the natural ability to make anyone feel comfortable, unless of course, they were trying to date my sister or me.
He reminded us how rich, full, meaningful and good one life can be by finding constant delight in the little things . . . like professional cheerleaders.
He had strong views about everything, from what piece of land would make the best location for his next restaurant, to why earrings don’t belong on men.
After meeting my mom in a diner in
He came home excited after its first day of operation. When he returned to the motel where they were staying, he couldn't contain himself because he'd multiplied his initial investment and doubled what he had been making prior.
“We’re rich!” he celebrated. But my mom was sad. She missed her family, and felt lonely with a young baby and another on the way.
My dad insisted they keep going.
And keep going he did.
Though my father worked long enough and hard enough to realize many accomplishments, his true appetite was always for the actual act of succeeding, rather than the trappings of success, which I don’t believe he gave a fig about.
And I can surely tell you that he never found fulfillment in material things, and he never pursued them in the aspirational way that some people pine for them.
His particular brand of magic didn’t depend on material possessions to generate, no; Harry’s innate personality was plenty.
He was the toughest boss I’ll ever have and one of the strongest personalities that one could ever meet and, as long as I knew him, you never got the sense that he had any wish to be anyone other than who he was. This comfort in his own skin is what underpinned all his other wonderful attributes.
Harry appreciated excellence in others, too. He always taught us to appreciate the skills and experience that professionals had earned, be they lawyers, doctors or judges.
Harry encouraged us to honor the sacrifices that others had made to pursue excellence.
Harry said "steel sharpens steel" and he encouraged us to associate ourselves with those who had earned respect.
He wasn’t afraid to tell people, even men, that he loved them, and he wasn’t afraid of dying. He just wasn’t ready to go yet, and leave his family: his soul mate in life and business – his wife, Barbara, his four children, and his two young grandsons, the apples of his eye.
When he was still a little boy, he once saw a U.S. Navy ship, docked in the bay of his town. When he first saw the stars and stripes on its flag, he thought that it was the most beautiful flag in the world, and that one day he would go there because of its promise.
As we remember him today, a flag is flying in his honor over the U.S. Capitol building in
A fitting tribute, for a man who loved this country with a passion seldom seen by most that were born here.
You could often hear my dad exclaim with a sparkle in his eye, “What a country,” when acknowledging his many blessings.
Today we say, "Thank You" for the way he touched our lives, and made them exponentially better, even though God decided he was needed up above.
…Something tells me heaven will now be watching a lot more Fox News.
I feel privileged and humbled by my father’s example. It's both inspirational and demanding. He was the most, extraordinary man ever I have ever met - or, that I will ever meet.
I’m simply lucky to be his daughter.
Just as he used to say: "What a country" . . . What a man . . . What a legacy.
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