UCLA SNF Center receives gift in memory of Aristides G. Alexopoulos

Published: January 7, 2021

The UCLA Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture (UCLA SNF Center) has received a substantial gift from former UCLA Professor Nicolaos (Nick) Alexopoulos and his wife, Sue Curtis Alexopoulos, in memory of Nick’s brother, Aristides G. Alexopoulos.

The Aristides G. Alexopoulos Endowment Student Fund will provide assistance in the form of small grants to students in financial need, with preference given to undergraduate and graduate students of Hellenic descent or with parents of Greek citizenship. These grants will help students achieve their academic or professional goals as well as overcome unexpected challenges. Nicolaos Alexopoulos specified this as the purpose of the endowment because of his own experience as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, where he was the beneficiary of a small grant that provided funds at a moment of critical need.

“The Alexopoulos Endowment is an unusual gift—one intended to reach out a hand to those at their moment of greatest need,” said Sharon Gerstel, director of the UCLA SNF Center, professor of Byzantine Art and Archaeology, and the George P. Kolovos Family Centennial Term Chair in Hellenic Studies. “The choice to establish such a gift speaks to an enormous generosity of spirit and the eternal love of one brother for another. We are deeply appreciative to Professor Alexopoulos and his wife, Sue Curtis Alexopoulos, for conceiving of such a meaningful tribute to a beloved family member, one that will indeed make his memory eternal.”

Aristides G. Alexopoulos (photo above courtesy of the Alexopoulos Family) was born in 1940 in Matesi, a village near Andritsaina in the Peloponnese. His father, Yorgos, and mother, Efstathia Giannopoulos, met for the first time at the nearby village of Rovia just two days prior to their wedding. With the onset of World War II, Yorgos was called up by the Greek Army, and Efstathia moved with Aristides to Athens to join her brother Theodoros and sister-in-law Sophia. Aristides’s brother Nicolaos (Nick) was born there on March 30, 1942. Upon the end of World War II and the Civil War that followed, Yorgos worked as a waiter and then ran a periptero (kiosk) with his brother. This allowed the family to move into a one-room apartment where they shared a toilet with two refugee families, one from Russia and the other from Turkey. In 1950, the family was able to buy a lot and build their own modest home on Argostoliou Street in the Athens suburb of Galatsi.

From his early years Aristides showed a strong interest in science and technology. Since the family did not own a radio, he set out to learn how to build one. His parents could not in any way help him since his mother had never had the opportunity to go to school and his father had only finished the second grade. In addition, there were no books in the house to help him, so he visited flea markets where people sold used radios and electronic parts. There he managed to find a manual with instructions to help him. At the age of 12, he was able to build a primitive radio with the components spread over an old table. He also wanted to receive Italian radio stations, so he designed a revolutionary (for its time) broadband antenna in the shape of a rhombic spiral mounted on a pole on the roof of the house.

Aristides was an excellent student in science and mathematics, but extremely bored. He quit school at the end of what is now junior high school, took a job in a plastics factory and simultaneously attended and eventually completed a trade school in electronics. He enlisted in the Greek army and was involved from the outset in a military communications unit. After his service, he obtained a full-time job at OTE (the Greek Telecommunications Company). In 1965, his father died at the age of 50 in a motorcycle accident and Aristides took over his father’s job, helping his uncle Kostas to run the periptero while still continuing to work at OTE.

In the fall of 1967, Aristides decided to go to the United States to join his brother Nick who was about to complete his PhD at the University of Michigan. Aristides enrolled at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti where he was awarded a Bachelor of Science Degree on January 22, 1970. In parallel, he was working as an Electrical Engineer at Bendix Corporation in Ann Arbor. In between these achievements, he returned to Greece to marry his neighbor and sweetheart, Vivi Babatsia, in October 27, 1968. Their son, Yorgos, was born in Ann Arbor on April 5, 1971.

In January of 1973, Aristides was offered a job at Hughes Aircraft Company in Culver City, California, and moved with his family to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, in January of 1974, he was diagnosed with retinal melanoma and his eye was removed. Yet, with one eye, he continued to work at Hughes and was awarded a fellowship by his employer to attend USC where he received a Master of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering on January 27, 1976. Meanwhile, he and his supervisor, Earl Swartzlander, invented “The Sign/Logarithm Number System,” which helped in accelerating computer calculations.

Unfortunately, the melanoma cancer spread to his liver. Most people would have given up at that point. But not Aristides, who volunteered to use an experimental hyperthermia machine to raise the tumor temperature and kill the cancer cells. However, the side effects of this were unbearable, and the authorities stopped this technology. Aristides died at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica on May 12, 1978 at the age of 38 and was buried in the historic Los Angeles Rosedale Cemetery, near the Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

Nicolaos and Sue Alexopoulos (Photo courtesy of Colin Young-Wolff)

Nicolaos Alexopoulos, from 1969 to 1996, was a faculty member of the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, serving as Chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering and as Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs. From 1997 to 2008, he served as the Dean of UC Irvine’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering. In 2008, he joined Broadcom Corporation as Vice President for Antennas, RF Technologies and University Relations. He currently serves as Vice President for Academic Programs and University Relations with the Broadcom Foundation.

Dean of Humanities David Schaberg said, “UCLA is grateful for this wonderful gift, which truly embodies the Greek spirit of philanthropy. Future generations will continue to appreciate and benefit from the support of the Alexopoulos Endowment.”