I attended the warmest wake this week.
A sizeable crowd gathered early Wednesday evening inside Fairfield’s Bryan-Braker Funeral Home to pay their respects to Spiros Kontogiannis, a man who not only helped make a difference in this community, but also in the lives he touched.
We stood in the back, along with myriad others, and listened intently as family and friends spoke amorously of this well-admired man. Through various stories, more layers were peeled and the core of this 54-year-old’s existence began to surface.
Before anything put on this Earth, he was a family man; a devoted husband and caring father. This was his priority. This was his life.
Coming in a close second was his restaurant, Athenian Grill, the blue and white nugget nestled by the Suisun waters with glistening yachts as its canvas. This is where we met the family.
Soon after the restaurant opened in 1993, Tony and I would frequent the place. I remember our favorite order during that time – popcorn shrimp. There was nothing like it.
Shelly always made a point to mingle with the patrons and would do so with us. We were welcomed with a warm embrace, which made us feel like we belonged in the moment. We were special, it seemed. We talked about our jobs, our same-aged children, and ways to help the community. I was impressed.
Spiros was a fixture behind the counter, always watching the line and ensuring orders were coming out in a timely fashion. But make no mistake, no matter what, he had an eye on Shelly.
Throughout the years, we watched as the business took flight while their daughter, Yvette, spread her wings at the restaurant. Within time, it was obvious that Yvette’s devotion mimicked her father’s.
Their impact in the community began to soar and it was common to see their names listed as sponsors at various events. I remember asking for support during an annual teacher recognition dinner. Without hesitation, I was given two hefty trays of food for the gala, no questions asked.
Two decades later, I find us inside a different building with many familiar faces . . . but the scenario seemed all too familiar. That is, Shelly stood before the gathered mourners and with her words, gave us a warm embrace. She made us feel like we belonged in that moment. It’s no surprise that Shelly was comforting us with laughter and encouragement.
I couldn’t help but smile because I knew right then that Spiros not only helped to strengthen his wife and daughter but was proud to be helmed by the two pillars who framed his life. I could see the impact of his love through the fog of mourning. No doubt, he prepared them to tackle the world; a true testament of his commitment to family.
I never thought I’d leave a wake smiling or feeling good about life, but I did this time. May you rest in peace, Spiros.
Andrea Garcia is a former Daily Republic reporter. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/acanola_garcia. Spiros Kontogiannis died Aug. 24.
This version corrects a typographical error in the headline.