Op-Ed: Tom Cholakis: A Man for All Seasons
Washington, DC—The following Op-Ed appeared in the National Herald, the Greek News, the Hellenic Times and in the Hellenic News of America.
Op-Ed: Tom Cholakis: A Man For All Seasons
By Gene Rossides
March 18, 2008
We have a number of nationally known leaders of our community in politics, business and the arts to whom we look up to with pride as role models; Michael Dukakis, former governor and Democratic Presidential Candidate, Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), George Stephanopoulos, former White House Domestic Policy Chief for President Bill Clinton and now chief Washington correspondent for ABC-TV; George Behrakis; John Catsimatides; Peter Angelos, Michael Jaharis, John P.Calamos, Sr., Chairman and CEO of Calamos Investments, James Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, Alex Spanos, Angelo Tsakopoulos, Nick Gage; our four representatives in Congress, Gus Bilirakis, (R-Florida) Shirley Berkley (D-Nevada), Zack Space (D-Ohio) and John Sarbanes (D-Maryland), the new Governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, Melina Kanakaredes, Jennifer Aniston, and others.
There are also many unsung and unheralded community leaders on a local and regional level who deserve our recognition.
I will refer to one of them, the late Tom Cholakis, not because he was a good and close friend, but because he can and should serve as a beacon and role model for the young men and women in our community in each of the 435 Congressional districts.
Tom passed away unexpectedly on January 15, 2008 at home following a heart by-pass operation. My wife and I attended the funeral in Troy, New York. The viewing was at St. Basil’s Greek Orthodox Church in Troy and literally the entire Greek American community of Troy, Rensselaer and a substantial number from Albany paid their respects. The line of viewers extended over a period of several hours.
Why do I single out Tom Cholakis for special recognition? I do so because he gave back to the Greek American community and to the community at large and should serve as an example, as a role model for the young men and women in our community in each of the 435 congressional districts in the fifty states.
Tom grew up in the Troy area of upstate New York, lived there, graduated from Troy High School and later Siena College and worked in the family-owned Mayflower restaurant. He raised a family there and still found the time to be active in local and regional community affairs.
First, let me mention his activities in our community. He was a pillar of the church, serving on the board for many years, including service as past president of the Board of Trustees. He was instrumental in the renovation of the St. Basil’s Greek Orthodox Church in Troy, N.Y. He was active in the Sons of Pericles and became its Supreme President and later a leading member of the Order of AHEPA. He became president of local chapter 306 and earned Ahepan of the Year Award. My wife and I were there when a delegation from the local AHEPA chapter paid a moving tribute to him for his central role in the chapter over the years.
Tom was a founding member of the American Hellenic Institute (AHI) in the Albany and Troy region of upstate New York in 1974 and led the successful effort with the entire upstate New York congressional delegation in the fall of 1974 to pass the rule of law arms embargo legislation against Turkey for its illegal aggression against Cyprus with the illegal use of American arms and equipment.
In 1995, he, together with Peter Baltis were instrumental in getting Congressman Gerald Solomon (R-New York), Chair of the House Rules Committee to authorize legislation initiated by AHI to halt economic grant aid to Turkey to be voted upon on the floor of the House. It was an historic vote in which the community succeeded at 5:00 a.m. in stopping grant economic aid to Turkey after an all night debate on the House floor.
How did Tom Cholakis do this? He did it by finding time to be active in local and regional politics. Tom chose the Republican Party in upstate New York and devoted himself to rebuilding it in Rensselaer County. He ran for office on the county level and served 18 years in the Rensselaer County Legislature. He was Republican chairman of Rensselaer County and a member of the North Greenland Town Committee and was president of the New York State Capital Area Off Track Betting Corporation.
The Troy Record had a lead article on January 16, 2008 titled “Cholakis remembered for service to community,” an editorial on January 19, 2008 titled “This gentleman leaves behind a proud legacy” and an article on January 20, 2008 on the funeral services titled “Cholakis’ dedication noted during eulogy.”
One of the leading papers in upstate New York, The Albany Times Union carried a lengthy obituary titled “Former GOP leader Thomas G. Cholakis was a major force in Rensselaer County; served as OTB chief.”
The Troy Record editorial put it best when it opened its opinion piece with the following: “There is no question that politics can be rough, and sometimes personal, in Rensselaer County. It takes a unique person to rise above the fray, get things done, and keep the respect of both sides of the aisle. Tom Cholakis was such a person.”
New York State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said : “We’ve lost a great colleague and a close friend to all of us in Rensselaer County. He was a devoted father and husband who cherished his deep family roots. Through his hard work and dedication, Tom earned the respect of a great many and became an icon within the Republican Party in Rensselaer County. He truly was a good man and a great personal friend.”
Rensselaer County Executive Kathleen Jimino said: “Tom dedicated himself to public service and his efforts have had a lasting impact on our community. His friendship and support over the years have meant a great deal to me and my family. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who have also been fortunate enough to call him a friend.”
Current Rensselaer County Legislative Chairman Neil J. Kelleher of Troy said: “Tom Cholakis was an inspiration and someone who was instrumental in moving his party to the legislative majority in Rensselaer County…He was very bright. Anytime you needed any political advice that required good instincts, he was a good one to bounce ideas off of.”
Rensselaer County Democratic Party Chairman Thomas Wade said: “Our friendship goes back many years…Although we were on opposite sides of the political fence, I always respected Tom for his loyalty to his party and family and for his abilities.” Dan Ashley, a Democrat, who considered Tom “a very close friend,” said that despite their political differences “on the floor the pair was able to walk out of each legislative session as friends.”
The Troy Record editorial included the following paragraph: “Unlike some in this county, Tom Cholakis never let politics become personal. He could disagree with someone during a meeting, or out on the campaign trail but he never let those disagreements affect his professional or personal relationships. He was loyal to his party, but he never let that loyalty detract from being a gentleman.”
Congressman Michael McNulty (D-New York) attended the funeral services “to pay respects to his friend and his family.”
Tom Cholakis is the type of person our community needs in each of the 435 congressional districts to lead our grass roots efforts with the Congress in the interests of strengthening U.S. relations with Greece and Cyprus.
The Jewish American community has five such persons assigned to each U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator. They vary from persons active in politics, in business, in the profession, in academia and in entertainment.
At AHI we seek three such persons for a total of 1605 nationwide. With such a team we would be able to influence U.S. policy on a consistent basis in the interests of the U.S. Anyone interested in joining this group please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Op-Ed: Tom Cholakis: A Man for All Seasons