January 9 was a bittersweet day for Andy Mousalimas of Oakland. The sweet part was watching his son James being sworn in as the new Superintendent of Schools of San Joaquin County.
But it was also bitter because Mary, his beloved wife for 66 years, wasn't there to join the celebration. Mary died last September 6, and Andy and his kids – and their kids – miss her terribly.
And they're not alone. The entire local Hellenic community is in mourning for Mary, who – besides being one of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet - pioneered the preservation of Greek-American history in the East Bay. In 2009 she received the Medal Of St. Paul, the highest honor awarded to a member of the laity by the Greek Orthodox Church.
As for Andy, he has the distinction of creating not one but two of America's most popular pastimes: fantasy football and trivia contests.
Fantasy Football was founded in 1962 by Andy, Warriors exec Scotty Sterling and Raiders part owner Bill Winkenbach – all of whom have busts in the Fantasy Football Hall of Fame.
They named it GOPPL – short for Greater Oakland Pigskin Prognostication League – and Andy's bar, the King's X Tavern at Piedmont and 51st,, was fantasy football central. The idea went viral, and the rest is history.
In 1970 Andy started a new game at the King's X called a trivia contest. And, again, the rest is history.
Then, in 1991, Perry Phillips, my fellow columnist at the Oakland Tribune, died. I had heard rumors that Perry was a secret agent for the OSS – the forerunner of the CIA - during World War II, so I called the CIA to check it out.
"He sure was," said the agent on the other end. "He was part of a commando unit called Operation Noah's Ark that operated behind enemy lines in occupied Greece and Yugoslavia. But there's a guy in your neck of the woods named Andy Mousalimas who served with Mr. Phillips, and he can tell you all about it. I hope to meet him some day. He's a very brave man."
So I called Andy and said, "Andy, you've been holding out on me!"
"Well," he said, "I hate to brag."
But he has a lot to brag about if he wanted to: a Bronze Star, European Campaign Ribbon (with four Battle Stars), Asia Campaign Ribbon (with three Battle Stars), British Paratroop Ribbon, Chinese Paratroop Ribbon, and the Presidential Unit Citation.
What he's proudest of is the fact that even though the Nazis were systematically starving the civilian population – more than 300,000 people starved to death during the German occupation – and offering huge rewards in food and money to anyone who turned one of the commandos in, not a single Greek ever did.
Andy and his buddies sabotaged infrastructure, collected intelligence, set up emergency landing fields for damaged Allied planes returning home from bombing missions, killed thousands of German soldiers (and pinned down tens of thousands more), and got into Hitler's head so badly, he issued the infamous Fuhrer Order No. 003830: "From now on, all enemies on so-called commando missions are to be slaughtered to the last man."
Andy celebrated his 90th birthday last week. Happy birthday, Andy. And efharisto. That's Greek for "thank you."