Passings: Professor Emeritus Michail Vitopoulos was passionate about Greek language and culture

Professor Emeritus Michail Vitopoulos died on Feb. 18, with his family by his side. He was in his 70th year.

Michail Vitopoulos

Michail Vitopoulos

Professor Vitopoulos was an associate professor of Modern Greek Studies in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics at York University. He retired in June 2017. He joined York University in 1989 as a contract faculty member and eventually joined the tenure-stream in 2006.  Prior to joining York University, he was a multilingual educational consultant for the Toronto District School Board from 1981 to 2002, where he was instrumental in writing policy documents pertaining to bilingual education and maintaining, in particular, Greek language programs. His scholarly work includes two books, The 1918 Anti-Greek Riot in Toronto (Society of Thessalonikeans and The Canadian Hellenic Historical Society: 2005) and The Downward Turn: The Prose Work of D. Christianopoulos (Toronto: Natural Heritage Publishing House, 1994). He also disseminated his research on Modern Greek writers and Modern Greek language education through several book chapters, articles, research reports and many conference presentations in Canada and abroad. In addition, Vitopoulos was also the author of several creative works dealing with the Greek diaspora including: the Return to Ithaca (2006 ), a two-hour play staged in 10 different performances at the Greek Cultural Centre of Toronto;  Alexis Zorbas, (2005) a two-hour education play based on Zorba the Greek and staged at the Greek Cultural Centre of Toronto; The Trantellenes, (1994), a theatrical exploration of Greek Medieval folk songs; Canada my Ithaka, (1993), a two-hour play exploring Canadian social reality, among others. He was also politically active in the anti-dictatorship movement in Toronto (see photo).

“Following the creation of the Hellenic Heritage Foundation Chair and the Hellenic Studies Program in 2002 he taught hundreds of students who took his courses in Modern Greek Language and Literature. He inspired through his wit, his enthusiasm and commitment to language and his love for literature, especially poetry,” said Professor Roberta Iannacito-Provenzano, chair of the Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics (DLLL).

July 9, 1972, Panhellenic Resistance Movement (P.A.K.) on hunger strike outside the U.S. Consulate in Toronto, in solidarity with the mother of Alekos Panagoulis. Panagoulis attempted to assassinate dictator Papadopoulos and was subjected to torture during his attention; his mother went on hunger strike outside the U.S. Embassy in Athens. Michalis Vitopoulos is first on the left. Image courtesy Hellenic Heritage Foundation and used with permission.

A dynamic leader in Toronto’s Greek community, Vitopoulos did a tremendous amount of outreach work and also really connected his students with the wider Greek community by inviting them to attend lectures, participate in plays and ensuring that they pursued his courses and cultural activities with the same passion he demonstrated. In addition, Vitopoulos was often a keynote speaker giving public lectures at consular and community events and was the host of the TV show The Public Presence where he interviewed academics, scientists, political historians both from Canada and the USA as part of Greek television programming. He was also instrumental in bringing the Greek community to York University through his work with the Hellenic Heritage Foundation (HHF). The HHF established a generous gift to preserve Modern Greek language, history and culture at York University.

“One of the first people I met when I joined York in 2009, Michail (Michalis) Vitopoulos was an inspiring educator to two generations of Greek Canadian high school and York university students. One of his greatest contributions and legacies is the donation of his books, pamphlets and periodicals collection to the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections of York University Libraries and the Greek Canadian History Project.The Hellenic Heritage Foundation Chair in Modern Greek Studies and History will always be grateful for this invaluable contribution,” said Professor Sakis Gekas, who is the Hellenic Heritage Foundation Chair in Modern Greek History.

Professor Vitopoulos will be missed dearly by colleagues, staff, friends and hundreds of his former students at York University. He leaves behind Natasha Baage, his wife of 40 years, and his daughters Antigone Nina (Chris) and Andrea Electra. A funeral was held on Feb. 23.

Written by Roberta Iannacito-Provenzano and Sakis Gekas

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