Named after a Spartan king, Dr. Menelaos “Mickey” Demos, a longtime doctor and a lawyer, led an epic life in Miami. At age 68, he cashed in and moved to Greece in search of a deeper purpose.
Demos died at 84 on Jan. 19 and was buried near his ancestral home.
“My dad was a best friend, confidant, advisor and renaissance man,” said his son, Meneloas “Mickey” Demos Jr., 50, a local boxing coach. “He would do anything to help his family and friends.”
His father’s parents and siblings moved to America in 1913, settled in Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood and “raised five children as Greek as they could be,” according to a personal memoir Demos penned in 2014.
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He received special “permission” at age 6 in 1937 from a priest to serve as an altar boy at St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church, which relocated in 1948 from northwest Miami to Coral Way. The rule at that time was that an altar boy must be between ages 9 and 12.
“Menelaos had discipline, and his heart was in the right place,” said Leo Thalassites, 88, of Palm Harbor, Florida, the choirboys captain, who taught Demos how to hold a candle for hours and shake the incense sensor during church services. “My father took note of that.”
Thalassites’ father, George, headed Miami’s Greek community into the early 1940s and had the distinction of being a seventh-generation priest who once taught combat fighting to elite Greek soldiers.
About this time, Demos experienced an epiphany after his mother pulled him aside and with a stern look charged: “Menelaos, you are a Maniate” (pronounced “mahn-ee-ah’-tee). He was stunned to hear that one of his ancestors, Petros Mavromichalis, ignited a revolution about 200 years ago against the Turks that helped restore democracy in Greece.
“It made me realize and understand more about myself and why I took certain paths in life,” Demos wrote. “It was destiny!”
It was in his “DNA” to persevere, he reasoned, when facing insurmountable odds. His mother’s edict ultimately launched him onto a circuitous life journey that included medicine, law and fighting.
While attending Miami Senior High in the late 1940s, Demos would perk up during classical studies and remind classmates of his warrior lineage.
“You don’t look like a Greek king to me,” Demos playfully recalled one student saying.
Outside of class, a rougher edge developed. By the time he graduated from high school, in 1948, students took notice of his dogged determination as a fighter. In college, he was so strong and fast, his alma mater, the University of Miami, went on to induct him into its Sports Hall of Fame for his boxing prowess.
UM bestowed its highest honor on Demos in 1953, with an induction into its Iron Arrow Honor Society for bringing “national recognition” to the school as a boxer during the late 1940s and early ’50s.
As a youth, Demos’ mother chided him for digging large holes in the backyard and climbing neighbors’ fences to reach for the sky. To quench this innate urge to be free, he became a licensed pilot and buzzed above and around the neighborhoods of Coconut Grove and Coral Gables.
“I felt as free as a bird in the sky,” Demos said.
Back on earth, Demos balanced flying with school to “stay within the rules of society.”
In 1963 at age 32, Demos graduated from medical school at UM and went on to practice urology in Miami until about 2000. During this time, he also taught medicine as a clinical professor.
At 1986 at 55, Demos graduated from UM law school and taught law as an adjunct professor.
He closed his medical practice in Miami in 2000, sold everything and returned to his mother’s village of Gythio, in Mani, Greece, to learn more about his roots.
Before arriving, however, Demos was warned: “You had better watch yourself, those people in Mani are dangerous.” Mani was compared to the “Wild West of the U.S.” as many Maniates are descendants of bandits or pirates.
It was treacherous just to drive there, Demos said. He described how hundreds of little makeshift memorial shrines lined the roadside where people were killed in accidents “usually around a curve.”
Upon arrival at Gythio, it struck Demos that he was near the spot where Helen, the queen of Sparta, ran away from King Menelaos, his namesake, an event that, according to legend, triggered the Trojan War.
Demos found his mother’s two-story home — built by his grandfather in 1842 — in shambles. It had not been lived in since his mother moved to Miami about 100 years ago. The first floor, called a kamara, housed goats, cows, chicken, sheep and donkeys. Humans, Demos pointed out, lived upstairs.
It didn’t take long to refurbish the house that was made of rock and cement and carved into a cliff. At age 69, Demos became restless and set out to get his license to practice medicine in Greece, which proved to be a daunting task.
Once again, Demos relied on his “persistence genes” to relearn anatomy, physiology and chemical formulas — in Greek.
During a chance visit to the University of Athens to listen to a visiting lecturer from the U.S., Demos recognized the guest as Dr. Mark Soloway, the chief of urology at UM.
“Mickey, what in the world are you doing here?” Demos recalled a stunned Soloway saying.
In 2001, Demos got his license and opened a medical practice in Gythio making “just enough to break even.” He was living the good life. The cost of living was low, he had plenty of food and lived in a beautiful home, thanks to his mother.
As for those patients who could not pay for his services with money, Demos simply accepted fresh fruit or olive oil instead.
“As I gazed at the sea every day from my office, it made me homesick for Miami,” Demos wrote.
But he felt compelled to return to his mother’s village and follow in the footsteps of his ancestors, the Maniates, who sought freedom from the tyrannical kings of Sparta.
“Just as they found freedom in Mani, so did I.”
Demos died Jan. 19 and was laid to rest a few days later in Gythio, Greece. A local 40-day memorial will be held at St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church on Sunday, March 1. Demos also is survived by his wife, Else; son James; and daughter Dr. Ginna Madrid.