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GUS FRANK DEMERIS, patriarch of a family that has fed Houstonians for nearly 50 years, entered into eternal rest and ended his brave and courageous battle against Myelodysplastic Syndrome and Acute Myelogenous Leukemia at 9:25 a.m., onThursday morning, the 10th of December 2009, at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, surrounded by those he loved most: his family. He was 79.The American dream was a reality for Gus Demeris. He came to Houston at the age of 16, with the equivalent of no more than an eighth grade education, and worked to help bring the rest of his family from Greece. Two days after arriving, he started working at Steve's Barbecue in downtown Houston, the only place he ever worked for someone else. Working at Steve's, he learned the importance of quality food, friendly service, and attention to detail that eventually brought him such success.In 1951, Gus was drafted into the army and was the first to raise his hand when a request was made for a volunteer cook. He spent the next two years cooking for his unit at Camp Polk in Louisiana.Gus learned to read the English language by poring over detective novels, learned to cook by following recipes, mastered the stock market by trial and error, and founded a family business that started with a small coffee shop and grew to be the third largest catering company in Houston.Gus was born on the 19th (or maybe it was the 15th) of September, 1930, in Paniares (now Falanthi), Greece. His father, Frank A. Demeris, is still remembered in the small, mountainous village as a generous man who expected much of his eldest son. As the civil unrest following the German occupation spread into the Peloponnese, the elder Mr. Demeris brought Gus and his sister, Georgia, to the United States to escape the violence and start anew. This was the only time in his life that Gus was separated for so long from his brothers; but within a year, his brother, Nick, came to Houston, followed a year after that by the arrival of his mother and his youngest brother, Jimmy.On November 28, 1965, Gus married Maria Fiongos, and together they raised their three sons, Frankie, Yonny and Jamie, from rowdy, rambunctious little boys to honorable young men who reflect Gus' sense of decency, honesty and integrity. Gus was very proud of each of his boys. "I love you all," he said during his last days, "not one any less than the others."As the family business, Demeris Barbecue, grew, Gus learned to relax by playing golf. He was a regular on courses around Houston, especially BraeBurn Country Club, of which he was a long-standing member. He also enjoyed playing in tournaments around the country sponsored by the AHEPA organization.Gus was an active member of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral. When called, he was always willing to serve: as a member of the parish council, as co-chair of the Greek Festival, serving on countless committees, and unselfishly donating his time and expertise.Regular trips back to Greece reconnected Gus with his childhood friends and extended family who still live in the mother country. He was able to share and exchange cherished memories of his parents with villagers in the coffee houses of Falanthi and nearby villages, and to take his granddaughters, Courtney and Caitlyn, to see his childhood home and experience the beautiful traditions of his family and his native country.Gus retired in 1995. Even so, he spent every morning at Demeris Barbecue on South Shepherd, drinking coffee with his coterie of family, friends and devotees. Nothing went unnoticed by the quiet man with the watchful eyes under blue tinted glasses, and he made sure that customers were treated courteously to the end.Upon his passing, Gus Demeris' life was celebrated around the world. In Houston, his family honored his memory by treating every customer at each of their locations to a free meal on the day of his passing. On the other side of the globe, church bells rang, and coffee shops in Falanthi and Harakopio, Greece, served their guests gratis to honor his memory. Many tears were shed on both sides of the globe, but not tears of sadness; rather, tears of joy for a life well lived and a legacy to be admired and emulated.Gus Demeris is survived by his spouse, Maria Fiongos Demeris; three sons, Frank Gus (Frankie) Demeris, John Gus (Yonny) Demeris, and James Gus (Jamie) Demeris and fiancée Tania Ashley; grandchildren, Courtney Maria Demeris and Caitlyn Francis Demeris; siblings, Georgia Demeris Vlahakos, Nick F. Demeris and wife Eleni, Jimmy F. Demeris and wife Lynnette; nieces and nephews, Billy G. Vlahakos and wife Marena, Dawn A. Demeris; Frank N. Demeris and wife Cindy, Frank G. Vlahakos and wife Paula, Stathy N. Demeris and wife Chrissy, Angela L. Demeris, John N. Demeris and wife Brandy, Stephanie Demeris Hodges and husband Douglas, George N. Demeris and wife Joannie, Georgia Demeris Stewart and husband Dane; grand nieces and nephews, George J. Vlahakos and wife Christie, Stephanie E. Vlahakos, Amalia D. Voinis, Nickolas F. Demeris, Yanni F. Demeris, Eleni S. Demeris, Caroline E. Demeris, James L. Hodges, Christopher J. Arbuckle, Nicole L. Arbuckle, Frankie E. Demeris, Niko S. Demeris, Emmy B. Demeris, Anne L. Hodges, Sofia A. Vlahakos, Andrew J. Demeris, Fote G. Demeris, Christina G. Vlahakos, Robert C. Stewart, Georgiana F. Vlahakos, Stefano K. Demeris, Alexander N. Demeris, and Cole D. Stewart; and great-grand nieces and nephews, Ellie K. Vlahakos, Georgia A. Vlahakos, and William G. Vlahakos; all of Houston, Texas. Gus was predeceased by his brother, Anastassi, and his parents, Frank Anastasios Demeris and Angelike Vasilakopoulou Demeris.During his final days, Gus told his family again and again that he did not want them to be sad at his passing, that he wanted them to celebrate his life and to be happy. His last words on this subject: "Don't be sad; party like I'm there." Indeed, his life was worthy of celebration. Eternal be his memory.The family of Gus Demeris thank the caregivers at the M. D. Anderson Leukemia Center for their generosity of spirit and warmth during his stay in room P621. Not to take away from the compassion and attendance of every other member of the Leukemia Center Staff, Gus and his family especially appreciated the love and attention shown by Lynn Greenberg, Ginsu, Shara and Zach for making his last weeks as dignified as the rest of his life. In addition, the family thanks Dr. Hagop Kantarjian, Suzan Kaled, David Billington, Margaret, Emily and everyone else who brightened his days while he was a patient at the clinic. He loved you all very much.Friends are cordially invited to a visitation with the family from one until five o'clock this afternoon, Sunday, the 13th of December, in the Jasek Chapel of Geo. H. Lewis & Sons, 1010 Bering Drive in Houston, where the Trisagion Prayers will commence at three o'clock.The funeral service is to be conducted at ten o'clock in the morning on Monday, the 14th of December, at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 3511 Yoakum Boulevard in Houston, where the Reverend Fathers Jordan Brown, Michael Lambakis, and James Tagaropulos will officiate.Honored to serve as casket bearers during the services are Steve Boozalis, Steve Caloudas, Jr., Gabino Corona, Theodore Dameris, Frank N. Demeris, Nick Stamos, Billy Vlahakos, and Frank Vlahakos. Standing as honorary pallbearers are John H. Baker III, Arthur Barbalias, Bill Davis, Alex Jelson, Lou Karvelas, Pete Magiros, Dennis Phocas, Spiro Pappas.Interment will follow, via an escorted cortege, at Woodlawn Garden of Memories Cemetery in Houston.Immediately following the interment, all are invited to join the family for a Makaria Luncheon, to be held in the S.P. Martel Hall of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral.
Published in Houston Chronicle from Dec. 11 to Dec. 13, 2009
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