Of fascinating lives
I’ve been reading two fascinating books lately: one a stirring account of an epic life in both public and private service; and another a frank and surprisingly-intimate account of an accomplished woman’s service to her country abroad.
Destiny Prevails is the autobiography of Paul Ioannidis, who is the vice president emeritus of the Onassis Foundation, and who was both a friend and associate to Aristotle Onassis and his children. The hook of the book is Ioannidis’ relation to the family and his principal role in running most of their business ventures, from Olympic Airways, to their shipping fleet, and the Foundation itself. He was there, first as chief pilot, later director, when Olympic Airways was becoming established, and when Onassis divested it to the Greek government. He was there when Onassis lost his son (he was a father figure to the young Alexander) and he was a mentor and second father to the orphaned Christina Onassis and her child. But he was a larger-than-life figure in his own right. Now 90, he was a resistance fighter while barely in his teens, a fighter pilot not long after, and one of the towering figures in Greek aviation—before he switched to the sea and ruled the Onassis fleet. His book is epic.
A more intimate account of a very public tenure is the memoir Madam Ambassador by Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis of her stint in Hungary as the American ambassador. A business dynamo, she was always interested in politics and public service and when the offer came, she jumped at it—putting her business life on hold and transplanting her family to Budapest to oversee the once-grand but now faded embassy compound which even had a bomb buried in the yard. Oh, and she also goes boar-hunting with the men—and scores a win.
As she crossed over the fabled Danube River one day, by happy coincidence, “The Blue Danube” started playing over the car radio and it brought home the realization that this girl from Sacramento who had once bought the complete set of Strauss waltzes was now in Hungary itself, as her country’s ambassador, and “a first generation American, the daughter of a Greek immigrant who had started his life in America as a farmworker…It was strange to think of that girl in Sacramento and how she came to be here, the first Greek American woman to serve as a U.S. ambassador.”
Fascinating reading both, don’t fail to pick them up. They are a great summer read.