Award encourages the study of modern Greek history

Although he may never have achieved public fame, Kostas Tsotsos, athlete, poet, soldier and teacher, was considered a celebrity among his own family members. He read the Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover and loved to debate the Greek origins of all words. He engaged in intellectual discussions on many topics, and had a deep-rooted passion for poetry, literature, politics and history. Kosta spent his life captivated by learning and worked hard to provide his three children with the best possible education.

“For my father, education was life. There was nothing more,” said his son, John Tsotsos, a professor of computer science and director of the Centre for Vision Research at York University. “He would say that education was the key to understanding the world.”

In memory of Kostas Tsotsos (right), who passed away in 2004, his family and friends established the Kostas Tsotsos Graduate Award in Modern Greek History within the History Program of York’s Faculty of Graduate Studies. The endowed award, established through a gift of $12,500 to the York University Foundation, plus matching funds from the Ontario government, will be awarded annually to one graduate student specializing in modern Greek history.

John Lennox, dean of York’s Faculty of Graduate Studies said, “This support is highly appreciated and is the most effective way to free up a student’s time for him or her to devote all attention to what is most important – that person’s graduate studies. Taking the long view, the value of such support is incalculable.”

Thomas Gallant, Hellenic Heritage Foundation Chair in Modern Greek History at York, says the award is a wonderful next step in York’s effort to create the premiere program in modern Greek history. “Not only does this award commemorate a wonderful individual, it also lends great prestige to a student’s resumé  while helping to attract the best students of modern Greek history to York,” said Gallant.

Tsotsos hopes the scholarship reaches students who are as passionate about education and Greek history as was his father. “My father tried twice to finish his education but due to lack of resources and opportunity, he never succeeded,” said Tsotsos. “He would be pleased to know that countless students will now be better able to complete their studies as a result of this funding.”

Born in the village of Alona (Florina) in northwestern Greece in 1920, Kosta grew up with a strong work ethic and a love for sports. His father got him a job when he was just six years old with a local cobbler so he would learn the value of work. He became an excellent athlete in high school and university, specializing in javelin and winning many awards at the national level.

A graduate of a paedagogic academy in Greece, Kosta received his teaching credentials and taught briefly at a private school in Thessaloniki, Greece. The Second World War put an end to his dreams of higher education and his attempt to represent Greece at the Olympics in the javelin event. During the war, he worked with British Intelligence Forces and then spent two years with the Greek army. Afterwards, Kosta attempted to complete a law degree but was forced to drop out in his third year due to financial pressures.

In 1951, Kosta moved to Canada and, for the next 32 years, worked for Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., earning every major sales and management award – national and international – many of them multiple times. “My father was so good at selling encyclopedias because he believed in the product as the key to education,” said Tsotsos. “He could sell those books to anybody.”

In his retirement Kosta returned to his first passion – sports-training and competing in the Masters’ Olympics locally, winning many medals in the javelin and discus events. He also completed a book about his experiences in the Second World War, learning how to use word processing software at age 75. This book, and a book of his poetry, in both English and Greek, will be available in the fall of 2005 at

“He was the most idealistic person,” says Tsotsos with great emotion. “He always taught me to set my goals high, believe in them and strive for a better world.”

This article was submitted to YFile by Carrie Brodi, communications officer, York University Foundation.