"No one is entitled to mention or praise when he performs the elementary duty to his country and his fellow men."
Short biographical note
John Latsis was born in 1910 in Katakolo, Ileia Prefecture. He was the sixth of the nine children of Spyros and Aphrodite Latsis. Coming from a poor family, he had to work from a very early age, mainly at the port of Katakolo as a dock worker. The port of Katakolo at that time had considerable traffic from merchant ships, which transported the area’s agricultural products, mainly raisins, to the ports of Western Europe, as well as from cruise ships from which passengers disembarked to visit the archaeological site of Ancient Olympia.
He attended the Primary School of Katakolo, the Hellenic School of Pyrgos and then the Commercial High School of Pyrgos. In 1940, at Pyrgos, in the Prefecture of Ileia, he married Henrietta Tsoukala and had three children, Spyros, Marianna and Margarita. He passed away on April 10, 2003, and two years later, his family proceeded to the establishment of the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation, continuing the prolific public benefit pursuits which he himself had during his lifetime.
His career in business, from the late 1920s to the mid-1990s, is characterized by engagement in commerce, initially of raisins and agricultural products and then of industrial goods, petroleum and petroleum products. For roughly three decades, from the mid-1940s to the 1970s, was enganged in coastal shipping activities, running six ships on the Argosaronic Line, and other passenger shipping, mainly transporting pilgrims from countries with Muslim populations, such as Libya, Algeria and Tunisia, to Jeddah as part of their annual pilgrimage to Mecca. The purchase of his first cargo ship in 1955 and his first tanker in 1958 marked his entry into the world of merchant oceangoing shipping. The ocean routes originally covered by his merchant fleet were mainly restricted to the eastern Mediterranean, with the largest volume of transactions located in Egypt and reaching the United Kingdom, where he also established his first foreign offices.
During the 1960s, his fleet expanded both in terms of number of ships and capacity and geographically, as his operations by then extended worldwide, assisted by satellite offices which he established in cities with commercial and investment interest at the time, such as Beirut, Tokyo, New York, Paris, etc. At the beginning of the 1970s, he started constructing the Petrola Hellas Refinery in Elefsina, which marked his simultaneous entry into two business sectors, the oil industry and the constructions sector, which continued in Saudi Arabia until the mid-1990s, with extensive infrastructure projects undertaken by the company Petrola International. Finally, his engagement in the banking sector began in 1980 as a collateral and limited activity, which developed more in the course of the following few years with his withdrawal from active entrepreneurship and the liberalization of the financial system.
Public benefit work
The business activity of John S. Latsis was accompanied by numerous public benefit initiatives, whose method of implementation varied according to conditions and requirements. One of his first coordinated actions was the establishment, in 1967, of the John S. Latsis Ileian Scholarship Foundation with the aim of helping students in his native land. Wishing to reinforce the field of scientific research, in 1975, he founded the Fondation Latsis Internationale, a Geneva-based non-profit public benefit foundation which annually awards prizes to scientists and research teams in recognition of their excellent and innovative contributions to selected fields of science. From 1991 to 2012, the Foundation for the Rehabilitation of Albanians of Greek Descent, which John Latsis established, hosted and trained more than 1,000 Albanians of Greek descent, contributing decisively to the raising of their standard of living and their professional rehabilitation.
At the same time, his contributions were extensive in emergency situations. Thus, he provided significant financial assistance in the wake of the earthquakes that hit the Kalamata region in 1986, putting up more than 1,000 homeless people for two years on his own cruise ship and offering the Greek State a factory for prefabricated houses. He also offered assistance upon the earthquakes that struck Pyrgos, Ileia Prefecture, in 1988 and 1993, Grevena in 1995 and Athens in 1999. He also supported the Greek government through donations for the administrative and operational equipment of the Hellenic Fire Brigade, the Hellenic Police and the Greek Ministry of Public Order. His sensitivity to Greek sailors and their families was expressed through large donations to the Seamen’s Pension Fund and the Pan-Hellenic Naval Federation.
In 1995, the Latsio Elementary School building complex, with a total area of 10,000 sq.m., fully funded by John Latsis, was delivered to the administration of Athens College. In 1999, construction commenced on the Latsio Burn Centre, a specialized centre for the treatment of burns, which was delivered fully equipped to the Greek State in 2005, two years after his death, and was integrated into the “Thriasio” General Hospital of Elefsina. Finally, his public benefit contribution extended to a multitude of individual gestures of solidarity with fellow people who were in need.
For the sum of his contributions, he was honoured with, inter alia, the Golden Cross of the Millennium of Agion Oros by the Patriarch Athenagoras in 1963, the Highest Order of the Phoenix by King Paul in 1965, the rank of the Highest Taxiarch by the Patriarch of Antioch in 1976, the Award of the Academy of Athens in 1989 and the Golden Cross by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in 1995.