More than a real estate mogul or a civic leader or mover and shaker, Vasilios Priskos was a community builder.
That’s how the Greek immigrant, raised in Utah to become one the state’s most respected business leaders and source of pride to its Greek-American community, was honored Saturday with eulogies and services at Salt Lake City’s Holy Trinity Cathedral. In the business realm, Priskos will best be remembered as a risk-taker whose bets helped resurrect downtown Salt Lake City at time when many were abandoning Main Street.
At least 500 people packed the historic church to pay their respects at a traditional Greek Orthodox funeral service and to mourn Priskos, who died from cancer at age 53.
The prominent developer, real estate broker and devoted family man leaves behind his wife, Shauna, and four sons, Christian, Nico, Alexander and Aristotle.
Ten pallbearers, including brother Deno, carried Priskos’ flower-draped casket up the front steps, through the mourners crowding the foyer and into the cathedral’s main chamber as a vocal dirge rained down from the choir balcony. Priests Mario Giannopoulos and George Nikas read and sang the service in Greek and English, before eulogizing a man who exemplified the untranslatable idea of “Philotimo,” derived from the Greek words for “friend” and “honor.”
“It’s a deep awareness in their heart for the good things they do,” Father Giannopolous said. “Simplicity in his love for his children and family. That’s all you need to say. That’s the thing that comes out for him.”
The priest encouraged mourners to embrace the virtues Priskos wielded in his efforts to restore vitality to an irreplaceable part of his city.
“That’s how someone’s memory lives on,” Giannopolous said. “Take those things, whatever you saw in him that you admired, remember where they came from and make them part of your life.”
Priskos was born on the Greek island of Evia and immigrated to the United States with his parents, Tula and Chris, at age 2, settling in Utah. They started a restaurant called the Royal Eatery on Salt Lake City’s Main Street, where Priskos had his first taste of employment.
“He was a champion for not only life itself, but a living memorial that despite all the bad cards one is dealt, it remains possible to build a winning hand,” states Priskos‘ obituary.
Confronted with adversities faced by those who uproot themselves for a better life elsewhere, the Priskos family sought to achieve the American dream through the kind of work that improves lives, according to his oldest son, Christian.
“When he came, he started from nothing and built it up through relationships. It wasn’t about money. It was about connecting people, doing things the right way and making sure people were happy,” Christian said in an interview Friday.
Priskos, his son said, “adored connecting people, whether they are the garbage man or the mayor. He knew how to blend classes together so they felt the same way. He treats people exactly how he wants them to treat him. That’s who our dad was. He is the reason Salt Lake City is the way it is.”
Along with pillars of Utah’s business community, mayors and other political leaders also attended at the funeral and the vigil the night before.
“Visilios was always at the heart of so much in our community,” said Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams. “He understood the beating heart of Salt Lake City. He was at the heart of making it a vibrant city. He will be missed; he touched every corner of the city and we love him.”
More than 1,000 people waited up to three hours to get into his viewing held Friday night at the church.
“And today standing room only, spilling out of the church, shows how many peoples’ lives he touched, both in civic and public affairs, but also so many edges of this community and people who have told me of things he has done for them,” McAdams said.
While amassing his real estate holdings, Priskos revitalized several historic downtown buildings, including the former Salt Lake Tribune offices at 143 S. Main St., often turning them into homes for city’s culinary and cultural life. But he also saw the need for political diversity in a region that has long been dominated by one party.
Although his politics differed with those of Bernie Sanders, the liberal Vermont senator who ran for president last year, Priskos still agreed to provide the Sanders campaign downtown office space at a discounted rate, according to son Nico.
“I saw [what] the political landscape of Salt Lake City and Utah meant to him,” Nico said. “He worked closely with politicians from both sides of the aisle and more importantly, grew to be close friends with them despite having ideological differences. He was truly bipartisan and did whatever was right for the city and the state of Utah.”