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Janet Tavakoli

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Even In a Palace a Right Life Is Possible

Posted: 02/13/2012 4:51 pm

Marcus Aurelius, a Roman Emperor and philosopher remarked: "Where life is possible at all, a right life is possible; life in a palace is possible; therefore even in a palace a right life is possible."

Often I write about people making money by stretching ethics, flouting rules, or breaking the law. This commentary is different. It's about someone who was very successful financially and well-known in the Chicago Greek community. But he didn't seek publicity, and you wouldn't find his name in the Wall Street Journal or the Financial Times. To protect the privacy of his family, I'll only use his first name, Peter.

Peter unexpectedly passed away recently. At his funeral and the reception afterwards, I was struck by the beneficial impact he had on so many lives. Peter was known to his family, friends, and business colleagues as a man of unquestionable integrity and as someone who found joy in the important things in life.

Timothy M. Whiting, Peter's mentee and good friend, had this to say about Peter after he delivered his own special eulogy over dinner: "He was just one of those people who could touch your life and you were never the same after. The reason I spoke was because he had more of an impact than I think even he or his family realized."

With Tim's permission, I offer you his eulogy in memory of Peter, who provided an example of what it means to achieve the success of a life well-lived. Tim added "what he taught me has changed my life," and hopes his eulogy will have a positive impact on someone else's life, since "that is what Peter would have wanted."

Eulogy for a Friend and Mentor


Peter became my friend and mentor after I rented my first apartment from him 11 years ago. Peter was very proud of his Greek heritage. I soon became known to Peter as Tim Whitingopoulos, honorary Greek. As with any mentor, our time was spent talking about life, business decisions, ideas for making money -- and of course laughing, as Peter loved to do.

As a mentor, I had the best. Peter taught me many things that changed my life and will stay with me forever. I wanted to share a few of the lessons he taught me and my hope is you can pass them on to your families, friends or the people you may embrace and mentor in your lifetime.

The first lesson I learned from Peter was that rules in your life are very important. For instance, we had a 24 hour rule. We called each other back within 24 hours. Peter's rules were about much more than returning a friend's phone call. Peter would say a man has to have rules, otherwise he will be lost.

What were Peter's "Rules"?

  • Family First -- Peter was devoted to his family, and they always came first. He loved his wife, "the Spartan woman," he would call her. He trained his son and daughter to run his business. Peter took time off of work when his son was a colicky baby to help nurse him to health.
  • Laughter -- Peter loved to laugh. For example, he would ask such things as how many walnuts does a walnut tree produce a year. After several "educated" but completely off base guesses he would laugh and laugh almost to tears. I recall the answer being something about walnut trees yielding 17,000 nuts!
  • Work -- Peter believed to be successful, you had to work and work hard.
  • Loyalty -- Peter's rule was that loyalty worked both ways. He would not waste time being loyal to someone if they were not loyal to him.
  • Accountability -- Peter always was there for me and his family and friends. He would always follow through with whatever he promised. He always picked up your call and if he didn't, he would call you back in less than an hour. Like loyalty though, Peter expected the same accountability back.
  • Patience -- Peter was a patient man. He never invested for a quick turnaround. I recall him talking about the trees on his farm and how the black walnut lumber would yield the most profit but it was going to take 40 years to mature and then be sold. I said he wouldn't live long enough to see that, but he said my children will!
  • Intelligence -- Peter thought every man should have a wide body of general knowledge. He read four newspapers a day and he was always learning and trying new things right up until he died to increase his vast knowledge on many things important to life.

His second lesson was that "You make money at what you are good at and what you know." In order to be successful at whatever you do, he would say it must be your focus. Peter would say: "don't waste your time or your money on things you don't know anything about. In the end, your best chance at success is you and your expertise in what you do best.

Peter's third lesson is that you "make money when you buy something, not when you sell." It applied to everything in Peter's life whether it was gold, rugs, real estate, or even friends like me! Peter invested his time in me when I was starting out and trying to make something of myself. And when it came time to "sell" I was worth a heck of lot more! Peter was right and this principle applies to everything in life.

The fourth lesson Peter taught me is to never become attached to money. Peter was an ultra-successful lawyer, businessman, and real estate investor. He enjoyed phenomenal financial success, but he knew money is a commodity. Nothing more. He would say: "So what if you lost money. You will make it back just as easily. Peter would spend money generously and wisely, but it never became who he was. This attitude allowed him to take calculated risks without worrying about whether he won or lost. He therefore, never became afraid to take risks that led to winning, where others never act to begin with because they are afraid of losing.

The fifth lesson is to make time for what is important in your life. He dropped everything when his family needed him. He mentored me every Friday. He took time every day to spend with his best friend, Mike. He loved to play handball and made time in his busy schedule to play twice a week. He loved lunches and dinners at the Greek Isles and he loved spending time with his family on his tree farm.

Peter's last lesson is the most important one in life: "Don't waste your time with people who don't care anything about you." He would always say spend your time with your work, family, true friends and the things you enjoy. Those things will bring you the most happiness in life. Random people, he would say, don't care about you and take you away from those that matter most. Those who really do care, add to your life.

Peter my friend, as we say goodbye, I just want to recite the words of an Irish Poem fitting for you as I'm sure it really originated from the Greeks in some way!

"May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be ever at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rain fall softly on your fields. And until we meet again may God hold you in the Palm of His Hand."

In memory of Peter