Professor Thanasis Maskaleris was the guiding light that brought the study and celebration of Modern Greek Studies to the San Francisco Bay Area. His love and deep knowledge of the modern Greek language, literature, and culture motivated him to establish the Center for Modern Greek Studies at San Francisco State University in 1981, offering classes and presentations in Modern Greek Studies with a particular appreciation of the work and contributions of Nikos Kazantzakis, the most revered Greek author and thinker of the modern era. Professor Maskaleris enlisted the support of the late California state senator Nicholas Petris and philanthropist Angelo Tsakopoulos to create the Nikos Kazantzakis Chair and Endowment at San Francisco State which supported the operation of the Center for many years until its transfer to UC Berkeley. Professor Maskaleris was admired and adored by his students, colleagues, and a multitude of friends and comrades within the broader Greek community. His profound knowledge of Greek history, literature and culture, his wit, his insight, and his winning smile will never be forgotten.
Professor Thanasis Maskaleris, 87, passed away Thanksgiving Day in his home in Oakland after a long fight with prostate cancer. He was a beloved icon in the Bay Area Greek Community. Born in Arcadia, Greece, he immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 17. He studied Philosophy and English at the University of Oklahoma, and Comparative Literature at Indiana University. Professor Maskaleris taught Comparative Literature, Classics and Creative Writing at San Francisco State University for many years, where he was Founding Director of the Center for Modern Greek Studies and led the effort to establish the Nikos Kazantzakis Chair.
He wrote and translated poetry in both Greek and English. His most recent publications were: An Anthology of Modern Greek Poetry, co-edited with Nanos Valaoritis, and The Terrestrial Gospel of Nikos Kazantzakis, an anthology of passages from the works of Kazantzakis centering on nature and the workers of the soil. His latest work was: My Life on the Ragged Paths of Pan: Selected Poems and Translations, published in 2015. He co-translated Nikos Kazantzakis’ travel book Russia, and was working on a critical-biographical study: Kazantzakis and the Cretan Life-Force.
Professor Maskaleris was a well-respected and much-loved teacher and mentor who inspired his students. During all his years in the Bay Area, he was a pillar of the Greek Community, always organizing or supporting activities that celebrated the Greek language, history and culture. His scholarly insights, collegial manner, laconic humor and magnetic personality made him an honored guest at countless academic and cultural events.
He was a Founding Member of the Modern Greek Studies Foundation and always attended the Executive Committee meetings giving good advice and providing historic perspective. He earned many awards and accolades, among them: the Order of the Phoenix by the Hellenic Republic, the Theodore Saloutos Award from the American Hellenic Council, the Athenian Award by the Hellenic Law Society and the Axion award from Hellenic American Professional Society.
He spent every summer in Greece and loved visiting other parts of the world, most recently visiting Spain with the Left Coast Writers’ group. Having lost his beloved grandson Josiah Maskaleris and just recently his brother Christos Maskaleris, a prominent pediatrician in Alexandropoulos, Greece, he is survived by his son Dionysos Maskaleris, granddaughter Laural Fawcett, and great granddaughter Citlalli Sanchez, along with former wife Gerda Kornfeld, and former wife Mina Tchirkine.
He will be remembered with great affection and respect by his family and by his many good friends in both Greece and the U.S. A memorial celebration will be held at 1:00 pm on January 20, 2018, at the Orinda Community Church, 10 Irwin Way, Orinda, CA. In lieu of flowers, donations in Professor Maskaleris’ memory may be made to: Modern Greek Studies Foundation, 220 Sansome Street, Suite 900, San Francisco, CA. 94104.