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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Louie gave and gave, then he gave some more

  • In this file photo from 2010, Michael Smirnioudis, left,  and his father, Louis Smirnioudis, center, get ready to prepare Thanksgiving vegetables with Nick Maylakis, right, at the Windmill Restaurant. The restaurant opened its doors to the community to eat for free every Thanksgiving. Smirnioudis passed away earlier this week, with his family by his side, after a year-long battle with lung cancer. <br/>(Katie Barnes/Monitor file)

    In this file photo from 2010, Michael Smirnioudis, left, and his father, Louis Smirnioudis, center, get ready to prepare Thanksgiving vegetables with Nick Maylakis, right, at the Windmill Restaurant. The restaurant opened its doors to the community to eat for free every Thanksgiving. Smirnioudis passed away earlier this week, with his family by his side, after a year-long battle with lung cancer.
    (Katie Barnes/Monitor file)

  • Christina Boujoukos takes a sip of coffee while enjoying a meal with her husband James at the Windmill Family Restaurant in Concord on Wednesday afternoon, August 28, 2013. The sign outside in the restaurant parking lot reads "Louie in our hearts forever." Louie Smirnioudis, the restaurant's owner, passed away after a year long battle with lung cancer earlier this week.  The Boujoukos have been long time patrons of the restaurant and were longtime friends of Smirnioudis from the local Greek community. "He was a good man," said Christina. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Christina Boujoukos takes a sip of coffee while enjoying a meal with her husband James at the Windmill Family Restaurant in Concord on Wednesday afternoon, August 28, 2013. The sign outside in the restaurant parking lot reads "Louie in our hearts forever." Louie Smirnioudis, the restaurant's owner, passed away after a year long battle with lung cancer earlier this week. The Boujoukos have been long time patrons of the restaurant and were longtime friends of Smirnioudis from the local Greek community. "He was a good man," said Christina.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Christina Boujoukos takes a sip of coffee while enjoying a meal with her husband James at the Windmill Family Restaurant in Concord on Wednesday afternoon, August 28, 2013. The sign outside in the restaurant parking lot reads "Louie in our hearts forever." Louie Smirnioudis, the restaurant's owner, passed away after a year long battle with lung cancer earlier this week.  The Boujoukos have been long time patrons of the restaurant and were longtime friends of Smirnioudis from the local Greek community. "He was a good man," said Christina. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Christina Boujoukos takes a sip of coffee while enjoying a meal with her husband James at the Windmill Family Restaurant in Concord on Wednesday afternoon, August 28, 2013. The sign outside in the restaurant parking lot reads "Louie in our hearts forever." Louie Smirnioudis, the restaurant's owner, passed away after a year long battle with lung cancer earlier this week. The Boujoukos have been long time patrons of the restaurant and were longtime friends of Smirnioudis from the local Greek community. "He was a good man," said Christina.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • In this file photo from 2010, Michael Smirnioudis, left,  and his father, Louis Smirnioudis, center, get ready to prepare Thanksgiving vegetables with Nick Maylakis, right, at the Windmill Restaurant. The restaurant opened its doors to the community to eat for free every Thanksgiving. Smirnioudis passed away earlier this week, with his family by his side, after a year-long battle with lung cancer. <br/>(Katie Barnes/Monitor file)
  • Christina Boujoukos takes a sip of coffee while enjoying a meal with her husband James at the Windmill Family Restaurant in Concord on Wednesday afternoon, August 28, 2013. The sign outside in the restaurant parking lot reads "Louie in our hearts forever." Louie Smirnioudis, the restaurant's owner, passed away after a year long battle with lung cancer earlier this week.  The Boujoukos have been long time patrons of the restaurant and were longtime friends of Smirnioudis from the local Greek community. "He was a good man," said Christina. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Christina Boujoukos takes a sip of coffee while enjoying a meal with her husband James at the Windmill Family Restaurant in Concord on Wednesday afternoon, August 28, 2013. The sign outside in the restaurant parking lot reads "Louie in our hearts forever." Louie Smirnioudis, the restaurant's owner, passed away after a year long battle with lung cancer earlier this week.  The Boujoukos have been long time patrons of the restaurant and were longtime friends of Smirnioudis from the local Greek community. "He was a good man," said Christina. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

The Windmill Restaurant won’t be open tomorrow.

And that’s a big deal.

It will mark the first time in 23 years that the Windmill will be closed on a day other than Christmas. Instead of working, the staff will attend the funeral for Louie Smirnioudis, who died from lung cancer Tuesday morning at age 60.

Louie opened the Windmill in 1990. He deserved his own float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, because Louie opened his doors to the needy on that holiday, and served turkey dinners the size of his heart.

He did it again last Thanksgiving, while fighting the disease. He died after a yearlong struggle, sometimes feeling strong, other times weak. But you never quite knew the extent of Louie’s pain, because that’s the way Louie wanted it.

Worry about Louie?

Nah.

Louie felt better worrying about you.

Just ask Sandy Wood, who has been a waitress at the Windmill since the beginning. She had three young children in those days, and baby-sitters weren’t always available during work hours.

But when you worked for Louie, there was always a solution. In this case, Wood brought her kids to the restaurant, where they donned aprons and sat out back with Louie’s three young sons, peeling potatoes.

“He always helped his employees, one way or another,” Wood said during yesterday’s quiet time, between breakfast and lunch. “He would help people out of prison, the homeless, everyone. It was like a day care in here with our six kids all together.”

Before he helped others, though, Louie had to help himself. His background plays like a black-and-white movie, about the kid who leaves his home in Greece, where people farmed, fished and harvested fruits, and hops a cargo ship bound for the States.

Then 17-year-old Louie, armed with a vocabulary consisting of “yes,” “no,” “good morning,” and “good night,” takes a bus from Philadelphia to a place that began with “New.”

“I was supposed to go to New York (City),” Louie once told me, “and New York and New Hampshire both had ‘New’ in them and I didn’t know any better. That’s why I’m here.”

The Big Apple is still reeling.

Louie worked 80-hour weeks at a downtown restaurant called Garbo’s, making roast beef sandwiches and cleaning floors. He lived in the basement and saved his money.

By the time he opened the Windmill, Louie had a wife named Sophia and two little boys named George and Kosmas. Michael came along two years later.

He immediately began a Thanksgiving tradition as familiar as mashed potatoes. Sophia and the staff helped serve the food, and his sons did too, once they were old enough. Many who ate there had no place else to go.

Check with people eating lunch at the Friendly Kitchen and you’ll hear about Louie’s Thanksgiving kindness.

Stacy Champagne of Boscawen first showed up two years ago. “I thought it was very special that he did that,” Champagne said. “And they gave you plenty. Enough to take home.”

Added her friend Starr Hilliard, also of Boscawen, “It was awesome he helped people. It was a place for someone to go, and it was supposed to be family time.”

Through his 50s, Louie’s mustache turned silver, his hair salt and pepper, but the holiday theme never changed. Neither did Louie’s interest in helping others.

He gave to local youth sports leagues, he gave to the homeless and he gave to those who worked for him. As Wood said, “It was everyone first, Louie last.”

That held true right up to the end. Louie was diagnosed with lung cancer last summer, but his annual November open house remained, right on schedule. By this past spring, after participating in a clinical study that included a new drug, Louie felt great.

So good, in fact, that he took his family to Greece.

“We were so excited,” Sophia said. “We thought it was going to give us more time. It was a miracle that we had found something that actually worked.”

In May, though, Louie’s health declined. He felt well enough to attend a family wedding in Greece two months ago, but he and Sophia returned home early. His lungs began shutting down. Shortness of breath, Sophia called it.

Louie died in hospice care, surrounded by Sophia, his three boys and his sister. “There aren’t many people in Concord who don’t know or love him,” Sophia said. “Everyone’s been calling.”

At the Windmill yesterday morning, Kosmas did paperwork behind the register while Wood and others attended to customers.

They teared up when talking about Louie, but work made them feel better.

“In a way, it makes me feel closer to him,” said Kosmas, who took over the business last year. “It’s a reason to carry on. This was his baby, and he was my anchor.”

Later, during lunchtime, Michael and George sat in a booth, accepting condolences. They were asked if their father’s tradition would continue.

Turns out, Louie had taken care of those plans last year, during the family’s own Thanksgiving dinner.

“He told us to carry on his legacy,” George said. “Those were his specific instructions.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or
rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

Thank you Sir, for all you have done to make the world a brighter place. While his physical presence may have been lost, he is still alive and well in the hearts and minds of those he helped along the way.

In a world obsessed with "great," successful," famous, "beautiful," Louie was good - a too often neglected virtue.

I don't think Louis ever met a stranger, anywhere. He was and is a great example of a true ambassador to Concord and the Greek community. We'll all miss his heartfelt welcome and his generosity to all people. Godspeed Louis.

A very kind hearted person, always a hello when you walked in....or he would sit and talk with you for a few minutes. Rest in Peace now Louie your legacy will remain in our hearts and hopefully some of us can pay it forward....Think of you at my thanksgiving table this year..

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