Sunday, March 20, 2016

Day One Five Eight. Influence: Joan Vasiliadis

Joan Vasiliadis was the strongest person I've ever known.

I know what it's like to have a strong partner. Mine's downstairs at the moment. But Joan, or Joannie, was the model from whom all others were cast.

No unlikelier couple ever existed than Joan and Charles Vasiliadis, known as Vas. Throw out everything you've ever thought about a fighter pilot's wife. Listen to Doug—one of the couple's three sons, along with Mark and Roger:

"My Mom went to Columbia Law School, and in 1953 she was one of only nine women in her graduating class of 135 students," said Doug.

"Mom was an intellectual Jewish, liberal democrat lawyer, and my Dad was a gritty Greek-Orthodox, conservative republican fighter pilot.

"She had spent the first 30 years of her life in New York City and could have continued a very successful professional career. But instead she married a fighter pilot, devoted herself to being a wife and a mother, moved from Air Force base to Air Force base raising 3 kids while much of the time my Dad was flying around the world and fighting in Vietnam."

Flying and fighting
Him? Well, he flew the F-86F and F-86H Sabre, F-100C and F-100D Super Sabre, A-1E Skyraider, F-105 Thunderchief and F-4 Phantom II. He flew 560 missions, was the high-hour A-1E pilot, was shot down and rescued in the F-105 and received two Silver Star medals. He's a big-hearted, outspoken, often humorous man of many accomplishments. But the smartest thing he ever did was to marry Joan Stern on March 23, 1961.

As their kids grew, Joannie was able to do some teaching, which was a natural for her.

But then the same thing that drew her away from the working world the first time happened again: this time not as a wife and mother but as a grandmother. When the three brothers started having kids, Joanie's biological instincts kicked in again and she became a superstar grandmother, or Yia Yia in Greek.

Off course she was ready, willing and able to baby sit whenever any of us wanted her to, but my Mom took being a grandmother to new heights.

As soon as the kids were ready, they started what soon became some of the most special and treasured times in their young lives, Yia Yia days. Once a week, each grandchild would get a Yia Yia day.

"Mom would pick them up either from home or school and spend the day with them doing an activity of their choice. Yia Yia days were spent at museums, libraries, restaurants, bowling alleys, arts and crafts shops, movie theaters, Chucky Cheese, or at Yia Yia's house baking."

Hostess with the mostest
She had special dinners for family every Sunday night for 20 years and hosted other events for an extraordinary circle of friends, including my wife Young Soon and me. Not once did I ever spy anything unhealthy on her table: the cuisine looked good and was good for us.

Vas and Joannie took good care of everyone around them—and of themselves. No one less deserved to be stricken with pancreatic cancer in 2008 than Joannie did. Mark, the physician in the family, found himself using his doctor's skills to aid his own dying mother. On the day of her diagnosis, Joan was shopping for a gift for a grandchild. She continued the task with aplomb.

Young Soon and I had dinner with Vas and Joannie after her diagnosis. Her only concern was for the rest of us.

Today, I'm facing my own cancer diagnosis. For details look elsewhere on this Blog. I can never be as brave as Joannie, but I can draw inspiration from her.

Joan Vasiliadis (January 17, 1930-July 22, 2008) we loved you, and you influenced everyone you touched.

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