Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | Fotios Malo

Fotios Malo, 82, who fled communist Albania, was a champion of freedom

CLEARWATER — In 1971, Fotios Malo escaped with his family from communist Albania, something he had been trying to do all his adult life.

A year later, a boat carrying Mr. Malo, 44, and 31 extended family members sailed past the Statue of Liberty, a sight his children recall with amazement.

The New York Times covered the feel-good story on Page 1. But all was not well for extended family members who had stayed behind in Albania. Everyone had heard about the family that escaped to Greece on a fishing boat. Embarrassed authorities rounded up relatives and sent them to work on government-owned farms.

Mr. Malo, who died Sunday at 82, spent the rest of his life amassing a fortune in restaurants and the stock market, then sending money and goods to his family in Albania.

He was short in stature, dark and intense. He championed freedom and gave money to Republican candidates such as Ronald Reagan, who invited Mr. Malo to his inaugural ball. His anti-communist sentiments included a dimension few Americans could share — that of a disillusioned former soldier for communist causes.

He was born into a Greek family in Himara, Albania, and grew up in a tiny and ancient house in a densely packed neighborhood between mountains and the Ionian Sea. At 13, he joined an uncle in the mountains, fighting with communist partisans against the German occupiers.

The communists took over the country in 1944. The new authorities immediately confiscated private property, including 400 olive trees belonging to Mr. Malo's parents.

"Instead of owning the land, they became day laborers for the Albanian government," said Eleonora Mihopoulos, Mr. Malo's daughter. "He said, 'This wasn't what I fought for.' "

Two events, both in 1948, defined the course of the rest of his life. Mr. Malo married his childhood sweetheart, Alexandra Joshi. He also went to jail for three years, first for his politics and then for trying to flee the country.

He moved to the capital city of Tirana on his release, and spent the next 20 years trying to escape. He studied boxing and acting and hung out with opera singers, hoping for a chance to reach another shore and defect. He repaired sewing machines, sold art on the black market and illegally watched Greek television for his news.

On Aug. 7, 1971, the entire extended family packed into a commercial fishing boat captained by his brother, Vasil Malo, and escaped to Greece. A year later, most of the clan went to New York.

Mr. Malo worked at night as a Macy's janitor and ran a hot dog stand during the day. He saved enough money to buy a pizza parlor in the Bronx.

Though he struggled with English all his life, Mr. Malo excelled at the stock market. "Honest to God, he could read the stock pages better than a Harvard graduate," said Mihopoulos, 58, a restaurateur who owns Kally-K's Steakery Fishery in Dunedin.

Mr. Malo's Albanian relatives, meanwhile, were living in poverty. The man the family called "Papou" shipped them cash and appliances, everything from televisions to washing machines and cars. Over the years, Mr. Malo made it possible for about 50 of his relatives and friends to leave Albania for the United States.

In 1975, Mr. Malo bought the Tower of Pizza restaurant in Key Largo. He turned the restaurant over to his children in 1980 and retired. Fulfilling his American dream had taken less than a decade.

The fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago this week filled him with relief. "He was so happy," Mihopoulos said. "He said, 'Now this is the beginning of the new world.' "

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

.Biography

Fotios Malo

Born: Feb. 10, 1927.Died: Nov. 8, 2009.

Survivors: Wife, Alexandra; son, Dionis and his wife, Theodora; daughters, Eleonora Mihopoulos and her husband, Alexander, Christina Lappas and her husband, Michael; brothers, Vasil and his wife, Kristina, Pandeli and his wife, Vasillo; sisters, Niki Kristo and her husband, Taqo, Marika Kolilas; six grandchildren; and numerous nieces and nephews.

Service: Visitation 6 to 8 p.m. today, Curlew Hills Funeral Home, 1717 Curlew Road, Palm Harbor. Service 11 a.m. Thursday, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, 409 S Old Coachman Road, Clearwater.

Fotios Malo, 82, who fled communist Albania, was a champion of freedom 11/10/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 9:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trump vows more sanctions on North Korea

    World

    President Donald Trump vowed Thursday to impose more sanctions on North Korea as he prepared to meet with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea to seek a common strategy in confronting the isolated nuclear-armed state.

    U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters on Sept. 19, 2017. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017 in New York described as "the sound of a dog barking" Trump's threat to destroy his country. [Associated Press]
  2. Tampa chamber of commerce votes against tax increase on business property

    Retail

    TAMPA — The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce on Thursday voted against supporting a city of Tampa plan to raise taxes on commercial properties in the city for 2018. The property tax, included in the city's proposed $974 million budget, would boost taxes from $5.73 to $6.33 for every $1,000 in property value.

    The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce voted against supporting a city tax hike on commercial property. Pictured is Bob Rohrlack, CEO of the chamber. | [Times file photo]
  3. How should St. Pete make up for dumping all that sewage? How about a street sweeper?

    Blogs

    Every crisis has a silver lining.

    In the case of St. Petersburg’s sewage crisis, which spawned state and federal investigations and delivered a state consent decree ordering the city to fix a dilapidated sewer system, the upside is figuring out how to satisfy the $810,000 civil penalty levied by the Florida …

    City Council chairwoman Darden Rice said it was important to chose carefully because residents will be paying attention.
  4. A boy and a girl stare at the camera from their house after Hurrciane Maria hit the eastern region of the island, in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, September 20, 2017. The strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years destroyed hundreds of homes, knocked out power across the entire island and turned some streets into raging rivers in an onslaught that could plunge the U.S. territory deeper into financial crisis. [Associated Prss]
  5. Tampa poll rates streets, flooding, police-community relations and transportation as top public priorities

    Blogs

    A city of Tampa online survey of the public's priorities for the next 18 months rated improving streets and easing flooding as the top priority of nearly 89 percent of respondents.

    Survey results