THEODORA MATSAKIS, nearly 99 years young, passed away on Wednesday, November 8, 2023 to be reunited with her beloved husband Nicholas of 64 years. She is survived by her three children Aphrodite, Demetrios (Cindy), and Elias (Joanne), and her seven grandchildren and their spouses, Theodora (Steve Steckler) Scarato, Magdalena (Marc Seiden) Scarato, Niko (Emily Lacika) Matsakis, Kalliroi (Caroline Howe) Matsakis, Nicholas (Terri) Matsakis, Christopher (Monica) Matsakis, and Antigone (Brian) Vesci, and by her eleven great-grandchildren, Sophia and Magdalena, Rosario and Niko, Daphne, Peter, Alexander and Catherine, Henry and Elias, and Meli. She is also survived by her beloved sister, Sophia Gorman and numerous nieces and nephews and godchildren.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, she was raised by two mothers, her beloved mother Aphrodite and Aunt Rego Makris, in a household with her sister Sophia, and cousins Theodora and Maria. Initially, as the only child in the family, Theodora was treated to trips to Coney Island and Jones Beach by her father Elias, godfather Michael Makris, and doting uncles on their rotating days off.
At age 20, she met a dashing young army captain from St. Louis who was smitten by her and they were wed in New York in 1945. Their celebration lasted until the wee hours of the morning with family and friends dancing to the Karpathian lyra. Later, they took the train to Miami, only to find that the hotel had overbooked their honeymoon suite…yet, the marriage prospered.
She made her home in St. Louis where she obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts from St. Louis University while giving birth to three children over four short years. With her children grown, Theodora returned to college to obtain a Master’s in Psychology and became a licensed counselor.
An accomplished violinist, she played in the first violin section of the St. Louis Philharmonic Orchestra for 64 years and gave numerous solo performances, including entertaining an audience of 1,000 at a dinner honoring Archbishop Makarios.
In the 50’s and 60’s, her primary focus was the home, where she devoted herself to nurturing her three children. She ushered them initially by bus, and later by car, to church and Sunday School, music, ballet and swimming lessons, Greek School, scouting activities, and Little League. Sunday afternoons were family times spent at the Jewel Box at Forest Park, Missouri Botanic Gardens, a movie at the Fox Theater, or a community pool.
She was a consummate cook, using many of her mother’s recipes. The family and numerous newcomers to St. Louis were well-nourished by her signature dishes of spaghetti with onions, avgolemono soup, eggplant parmesan, pastitsio, Karpathian koulouria, fakorizo, and yemista. Her baklava and kourambiethes were legendary. Her love of chocolate knew no bounds. She succumbed to her father’s passion for whipped cream. In her later years, her candy dish was always stocked with Hershey’s Kisses and European dark chocolates.
She supported her husband’s lifetime dedication for Justice for Cyprus. She painstakingly typed and edited more than 25 volumes of correspondence to politicians, newspapers, and civic leaders and hosted scores of meetings in their home. She honored her beloved Nick every December 6th with a name day party often serving a full dinner and homemade desserts to more than 100 guests.
While her husband’s passion for gardening was not her thing, in later years when Jim Zoumbas would help with the garden, she and Jim would enjoy a few late evening glasses of wine and conversation. She and our father visited Greece often and toured the world from Russia to Australia, often in groups with his 1940 dental classmates.
She missed her family on the East Coast but kept in contact with frequent visits and numerous lengthy long-distance calls. She built a new family of koumbari in St. Louis and was adored by her numerous godchildren. Later, Chris and Antigoni Dafnides became constants in her life and they enjoyed sharing all their holidays together as a single family.
Each Christmas, her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren returned to Jamaica Court for a shared tradition that lasted 40 years. That tradition required that children wait patiently until late Christmas morning to open their presents so that Yiayia could appear after staying up late wrapping presents. Christmas week was spent watching movies with Yiayia late into the night.
She loved dancing and was on the dance floor at every AHEPA convention, church glendi, or party. Even into her 90s, she would come alive with Greek music and refuse to go home until well after midnight. She was blessed to be at the weddings of each of her grandchildren, even traveling to Chicago in 2017 where she danced with her great-grandchildren.
She also loved to read. Her interests varied from Russian novels, pop psychology, self-help, romantic novels, and all manner of print media. She was open to new ideas and even an occasional psychic consult.
She enjoyed going to the movies - the more romantic, the better. In her later years, she had a date night with her son Demetrios on most Saturdays where they would eat Chinese and see a movie. Often, Madeleine Keesing would join them. Her last movie outing was My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 with her entire family.
She was a lifelong advocate of world peace and civil rights. Her telephone message ended with “Peace Is Every Step”. She was an advocate of women’s rights before women’s rights became a political issue. She educated her children about the sufferings of African Americans - especially the abuse of enslaved women long before that sad history became acknowledged in our culture. She volunteered to help Obama in 2008 by calling voters. She went to the January 21, 2017 Women’s March in Washington DC in a wheelchair carrying a sign saying: “I voted for Truman, Stevenson, Kennedy, Johnson, Humphrey, McGovern, Mondale, Carter, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Obama, and Clinton”. She later voted for Biden also.
She had a special gift for note-writing. You would never just receive a birthday, graduation, wedding, or get-well card. Instead, you received a love letter that was filled with positive loving thoughts, beautifully expressed and personalized. Her handwriting would extend to the back, then to the side, with little arrows letting you know there was more to come. She passed her writing skills to her daughter Aphrodite and taught all her children the power of effective use of language.
If you were to ask what made Theodora different, it was simply that she was incapable of speaking ill of anyone and when told by her children or grandchildren “we love you” – her response was always “I love you more!”
Although rarely on time, she was both timeless and a woman of her time: A modern woman, informed by an ancient and grace-filled soul.
Theodora was our matriarch. She molded us with boundless positivity, empathy, nurture, and love. These gifts were made more special by seeing her twinkle of delight and sheepish smile on those occasions when she permitted herself to share a guilty pleasure in our presence.
We are blessed to have had her with us for what was objectively a long time but now feels so short. She will be missed by those she touched. May Her Memory Be Eternal.
Visitation on Sunday, November 12, 2023 from 1- 4 PM with a Trisagion service at 3 PM at Beall Funeral Home, 6512 NW Crain Hwy, Bowie, MD 20715 (301.805.5544).
Funeral will be held in St. Louis on Saturday, November 18, 2023 with visitation at 11:00 AM and funeral services at noon at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, 1755 Des Peres Rd., Town & Country, MO 63131 (314.966.2255) to be followed by interment at Chapel Hill Mortuary at 10301 Big Bend Rd., Kirkwood, MO 63122.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations either to the Philharmonic Society of St. Louis MO, P.O. Box 220437, St. Louis, MO 63122 or to the Nicholas and Theodora Matsakis Hellenic Culture Center c/o Greek Professorship, 537 Clark Hall, 1 University Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63121.