It is difficult to speak or write about your spiritual mother. Silence seems most appropriate, especially about someone who always avoided public recognition and adulation. But I need to say goodbye to the most remarkable human being who blessed me with her friendship. And I need to express the gratitude of myself and of the many others who, as youngsters, benefited by her generosity, of all the people that she helped educate, and of the countless children who were enriched by her libraries, in Greece and in France.
I met Annette in 1956, when I was 16, and she changed my life. It was in Crete, at a village wedding. She was beautiful, full of life, she radiated with love for the country and the people as she danced and listened to the singing. At the time she was sponsoring the education of bright boys from the Greek countryside (not Athens or Thessaloniki, but specifically from the countryside where opportunities were extremely limited). She inquired about me, and a few days later she came to see me at home in Heraklion. Her warm, penetrating eyes interviewed me as critically as her questions. We talked about poetry, about the mountains, about Byzantine and Modern Greek history, about Kazantzakis, about my love for Biology – a science little known in Greece at the time. At the end, she gave me the scholarship that made possible my studies in the United States. She brushed aside my grateful thanks, and those of my parents. “This is not a personal favor, I am doing this for Greece and the world. You have talent, you need the opportunity to cultivate it. And you must promise me that you will return to help other Greek children. Some day, you will do something valuable for Greece”. Of course, I promised to return – a path I fervently wanted.
While I studied at Cornell and Harvard, she kept in touch by letter and on her occasional visits. A loving presence and a constant support, even from a distance. And when I got my PhD and was asked to join the faculty at Harvard, she wrote me to release me from my promise. “You should accept the position that has been offered, do not feel bound by the obligation to return to Greece. We belong to the world more than to any country. And for the world, but also for Greece, what you create in science will be more important than what you can do by returning now”. I followed her advice. In the next ten years we did not communicate as frequently, but her warm support was always there, as when she cabled to congratulate me for a discovery. And when I returned to Crete part-time in 1982 to teach at the University and establish the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, I wrote her to describe my plans and mentioned my original promise, now fulfilled. I knew that she was more proud of this commitment, so close to her own vision, than for anything else that I had created.
Our friendship became closer beginning with that time. In 1985 she invited me to Les Treilles. I was instantly captivated by the atmosphere of peace, harmony, beauty and creativity, and recognized that Les Treilles was the embodiment of her own spirit. Then she asked me for a second promise: to help perpetuate it.
Annette, I love you and will always keep the promise.