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Demitrios Gatzogiannis (“Jimmy”) passed away at the age of 87 in Wells, Maine with his family at his side on June 27th after a courageous battle with a terminal illness. Demitrios was born on November 15, 1934 in the mountainous village of Lia in Epiros, Greece. He was the son of Anastasia (Koukas) and Evangelos Gatzogiannis.
At the young age of five, Demitrios wasn’t allowed to go to school because he needed to take care of the family’s herd of goats. For years thereafter, he helped the family during hard times that were to come. In 1948, when the Greek Civil War broke out, the communists took all the villagers of Lia to various countries behind the iron curtain as the allies were approaching. Demitrios, along with his mother, grandfather, and four siblings was placed in a concentration camp outside of Budapest, Hungary. He immediately took it upon himself to support the entire family as a teenager, learning to drive a tractor and work in the fields. He was able to learn Hungarian quickly which helped him get numerous employment opportunities on the collective farms. In 1953, with the death of Joseph Stalin, the Greeks were allowed to return to their villages–to the absolute delight of Demitrios and his family. However, most of the villages that the Greeks left behind, were ravaged by the war and survival was difficult for everyone who returned. Many had to go seek other opportunities abroad.
Demitrios’ father and his oldest brother had emigrated to America before the war and were able to bring the family to Worcester on Columbus Day, 1955. Demitrios was immediately employed at Table Talk Pies in Worcester, MA where he flourished and was promoted often for his hard work. He saw America as a golden opportunity, and began a career that allowed him to pursue his dreams. In 1963, he married his sweetheart Helen Mallios, and shortly thereafter opened his first pizza shop in Framingham, MA called “Famous Pizza,” an establishment that became a landmark where scores of people would line up on the weekends to taste Jimmys best and first pizza in town.
Demitrios, however, was still restless and ended up selling his first establishment to open up pizza shops in Brighton, Beverly, Salem, Peabody, Ipswich, MA and Seabrook, NH. He worked nearly one hundred hours a week and enjoyed every minute with his employees and the people he met. Finally, Demitrios fell in love with Maine and opened up his current House of Pizza in Sanford, ME.
Along with his wife, son, and grandson his legacy is still going strong. As his younger brother would say “Jimmy didn’t have to go to business school because he was the business school.” Demitrios is survived by his wife, Helen, son Foto, and daughter-in-law Kathy along with his grandchildren: Demitrios, Alec, and Zoe. He is also survived by his siblings Vasiliki Kyros, Ourania Stratis of Worcester, MA and George of Chatham, MA, in addition to his sister and brother in-laws Gramany Gatzogiannis and Rose and Arthur Mallios of Worcester, MA, along with many nieces, nephews, and cousins in American and Greece. He was predeceased by his parents, his older sister Hrisoula who was killed during the war, his older brother and best friend Elias, and his two younger sisters: Agathi and Liberty Bouris.
Throughout his life, Demitrios was proud of his heritage and America–the country that made his dreams possible. Along the way, he touched the lives of many people and dedicated himself to the causes that made him proud. Tomorrow, the bells in Lia, Greece will ring loudly because the multitude of his contributions and legacy will live on.
Visiting hours will be held on Wednesday, June 29th from 3 to 5PM at the Carll-Heald & Black Funeral Home, 580 Main Street, Springvale, ME. A reception will follow at the Elks Lodge in Sanford from 6 to 8PM. An additional wake will be held at the Callahan Fay Caswell Funeral Life Celebration Home, 61 Myrtle Street, in Worcester, MA, on Thursday from 5 to 7PM. A funeral service will be held on Friday at 10AM at St. Spyridon Cathedral in Worcester, MA. Burial will follow in Hope Cemetery, 119 Webster St., Worcester.
In lieu of flowers donations may be made in his memory to St. Spyridon Cathedral in Worcester, MA and St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Saco, ME.
Condolences may be expressed at www.blackfuneralhomes.com and www.callahanfay.com.
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