Prime Minister-Elect

06.19.12

Antonis Samaras: New Greek Prime Minister and Predecessor Share College Ties

The new Greek prime minister is tasked with rescuing his country from financial ruin. He’s also Amherst, Class of ’74. James Warren, class secretary, on the latest alumni doings.

The apparent winner in the Greek elections Sunday was the euro and thus the stability of world financial markets.

But a close second is me, secretary of the Amherst College class of 1974.

Trolling for notes every few months can be a Sisyphean task. How many times can you mention that a classmate’s daughter graduated from somewhere, or that a Wall Street law firm laid him off, or that he and spouse just got back from a Scottish holiday?

Now we probably have the next Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, to write about. Beating the odds of Mediterranean-cum-New England probability, he’d be the second Greek PM from our original freshman class.

Yes, both Samaras and George Papandreou showed up with us in pastoral western Massachusetts in the fall of 1970. And while the latter would ultimately graduate in 1975, for a period the future political rivals and ideological nemeses were roommates, close chums, and urbane fellows who lured attractive women without difficulty.

On Sunday the New Democracy Party was the election winner and should fashion the next cabinet, with party leader Samaras the seeming favorite to take the tricky job of prime minister in the latest coalition government. His party’s platform was based on largely accepting the onerous terms of a bailout of the Greek economy.

His ascension would represent a certain complex irony for our class, since the right-of-center Samaras, and a horrendous economy, forced out the left-of-center Papandreou as the nation’s leader last year.

Michael Rogawski, who chairs the department of neurology at the University of California at Davis, was in Madrid with his family Sunday and was closely following events in Greece. He recalled, as he had for me last year, two very handsome “mythical characters,” with gorgeous women from nearby Smith and Mt. Holyoke Colleges amid a “clique of aristocratic jet-setting friends.”

Gordon Wiltsie, a renowned adventure photographer who lives in Bozeman, Mont., was Samaras’s sophomore roommate. He recalls a pretty conservative fellow, heeding most rules on most matters, though far less cautious when it came to women. Papandreou by comparison, was a distinctly hard partier.

Cully Wilcoxon, a cellist and former academic who now lives in Devizes, Wiltshire, was a “naive Southern boy” during those heady undergraduate days and was close to Samaras and his family, including his prominent doctor father.

He recalled two very handsome, “mythical characters” with gorgeous women from nearby Smith and Mt. Holyoke Colleges amid a “clique of aristocratic jet-setting friends.”

He even visited the Samaras family in Athens during the so-called era of the colonels after a U.S.-backed military junta (that prompted the jailing and later exile of Papandreou’s father) and was once urged by Antonis—whom we all knew as "Andonis" back then—to speak in English as they were about to pass some soldiers coming their way.

Samaras, who read Plato’s Republic in the original ancient Greek as his classmates read the English translation, always struck Wilcoxon as “self-consciously patriotic and, because passionate, impulsive,” he recalled Sunday night. He was fond of beginning sentences confidently with ‘the Greeks,’ or ‘we Greeks.’”

They lost touch eventually and the cellist is not all that sure he’d like Samaras that much now. “He used to be very good-humored and loved a laugh. As it seems to me from afar, this ‘self-conscious patriotism’—wanting to be seen to be a patriot—has become completely humorless and more than a little obnoxious.”

“The pictures I sometimes see of him nowadays scowl alarmingly. How good will he be at building consensus and getting the Germans to make some of the concessions he’ll have to demand for the sake of his continued popularity (and much else)? I hardly know, but I do wonder.”

Samaras and I palled around a bit, especially with the son of a New York lawyer who did work for Greek shipping magnates. We later crossed paths when I went on an international trek with President Clinton, in my then-role as Washington bureau chief of the Chicago Tribune, and found myself outside a state dinner in Athens as the press contingent’s so-called pool reporter.

Samaras saw me and, to the chagrin of security, beckoned me just before the start. Along with Papandreou, who was also there, we briefly gossiped about old times and some anti-American demonstrations in Athens that night, until President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton entered the room. The latter gave me a “What the hell are you doing in here?” look as I exited.

As for any current geopolitical judgments of mine, given the Sunday results, they’re tempered by more immediate concerns.

Andonis, can you email me three or four sentences on what you’re up to for next class notes? Kids? Wife? Recent vacation? Run into any of our old chums near the Acropolis?