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IN CHURCHES, HE ALWAYS FOUND PEOPLE IN NEED

Nicholas Moran had a cadre of favorite expressions.

When in a hurry, he'd say, "Gotta go, gotta go." When life took unexpected turns, it was, "Man plans, God laughs." And when talking about money, he'd quip, "You'll never see a Brinks truck following a hearse."

But his favorite expression beamed from a bumper sticker on his silver blue Lexus sedan. And his daughter embroidered the words onto hand towels she gave him for Christmas.

The phrase meant everything.

"Prota O Theos" - in Greek, "God first."

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Mr. Moran always found himself in churches.

As a teen, he was an altar server at the Cathedral of Boston, a Greek Orthodox church. And while living in Connecticut later, he met his future wife at a church picnic.

"I was very impressed," said Helene Moran, 65. "I was impressed by his height and his intelligence. He was so articulate. He could tell you history, he could tell you religious things, he could tell you technical things."

He went in and out of college, looking for direction. Then, one day, he found himself in church again. There, he saw an altar boy he grew up with - but the boy had become a priest. It made Mr. Moran ponder his own life and all he had yet to do.

He went back to school, got his degree and became a teacher. He and Mrs. Moran had four children in five years.

He was laid back in raising them, letting them make mistakes. Every summer, the family of six would crowd into a camper and drive to a new destination - Carlsbad Caverns, Mexico, Nashville. He joked with them, shared stores and gave them Greek lessons. "We couldn't speak Greek as well as he wanted, but he would teach us to sound it out," said his daughter, Kristi Moran-Blett, 39. "He was the most patient person."

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He always knew how to fix things. At age 13, he installed a water heater in his family's home - by himself.

He'd bring his kids into his impeccably organized workshop and teach. His daughters figure they were the only girls in town who knew how to install a toilet.

If a light flickered in a restaurant, he'd fix it for the owner. One time, on a vacation in Greece, Mr. Moran repaired a broken phone for a stranger who needed to call her husband to take laundry off the line before it rained.

He was a snowbird for years and moved to Florida permanently in 1995. Here, he found himself in church again - St. Nicholas Cathedral in Tarpon Springs. He put his talents to use.

"I cannot tell you an instance where he didn't help someone who was in need who couldn't afford to fix their sink, get their room painted, fix their television," said Nikki Christus, president of Philoptochos, a philanthropy group at the church. "He went in and did it himself."

He was at church every day, drinking coffee, cleaning, polishing, talking. Every year, he volunteered at Epiphany celebrations in Connecticut and Tarpon Springs.

Mr. Moran was tall and bounding. At the celebrations, he ran around with a walkie-talkie, his tiny miniature pinscher, Sousou, resting on his long forearms.

"He walked at such a pace, so quickly, and he had a big stride," said Mrs. Moran. "Never, never, never, could you keep up with him."

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Mr. Moran had problems with his heart. At this year's Tarpon Springs Epiphany celebration, he sat while his family did the running. But he was there.

Mr. Moran died Thursday. He was 73.

At the funeral home, his family found a casket in the exact color of his car. And on top, they'll display a flower cascade with a printed ribbon: "Prota O Theos."

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

BIOGRAPHY

Nicholas Moran

Born: Aug. 26, 1934.

Died: Jan. 31, 2008.

Survivors: wife, Helene Aliferis Moran; daughters, Cheri Moran-Awe and her husband, Michael Awe, Kristi Moran-Blett and her husband, George Blett; sons, Dean Moran, Bill Moran and his wife, Heather; grandsons, Andrew Nicholas Moran and Dimitri George Blett; sister, Martha Moran; brother, Theodoros Moran, and his wife, Sophia; nieces, Demetra and Despina Moran; goddaughter, Aliese Moran.

Services: 5-8 p.m. Monday at St. Nicholas Cathedral of Tarpon Springs. Coffee reception to follow.

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