We were all shocked and saddened by the sudden and untimely death of Prof. Chris (Χρίστος) Floudas of Texas A&M and Princeton University. Both institutions published obituaries with his biography and the impact of his remarkable career (see here and here). Prof. Nicholas Peppas announced the sad news on our Facebook page, relaying personal pictures and keeping our community informed. In this tribute we would like to offer a personal angle into what made Chris special, since Texas sadly did not get enough opportunity to know him.
Chris had a larger-than-life impact, so his premature death was incomprehensible. He honed his considerable talents into the skills needed to succeed through focus, dedication and hard work. He used his legendary intensity and work ethic to master research, teaching, supervising, mentoring, consulting, and administering over the course of his career, all the while being an exemplary father and husband, and a cherished friend.
He achieved a rare balance of many aspects seemingly at odds with each other. A brilliant individual researcher, yet a gifted supervisor who managed to leave his spirit in the lab to run it even in his absence. A caring teacher and mentor who cultivated his students’ talents, yet an exacting task master who pushed his students to be excellent and not just “good enough,” even as he praised them. A generous sponsor who provided opportunities and opened doors as he passed through them, yet a fierce competitor who was only satisfied with the best at everything he touched. A man of principle whose word was contract, yet a savvy negotiator who would get to a solution. At home in the highest levels of U.S. academia, yet remaining Greek at heart. Aware of and confident in his competencies and abilities, yet modest, humble and approachable. A conservative dresser rarely seen outside a well-tailored suit, yet a risk-taker who did not hesitate to push the boundaries.
Chris never stopped growing. He and Fotini left the comfortable life of a 29-year-old career in one of the greatest institutions of this country for a true Texas adventure, starting up the Energy Institute at A&M. In Texas, he tried new things; he was spotted with a microphone singing Greek songs and adding other Greek dances to his repertoire of Epirote Tsamiko. At A&M, he recruited many bright minds of the College Station/Houston community, several among them of Greek and Cypriot origin, and he continued to provide internship opportunities to qualified college and high school students.
Jason was among Chris’ last interns. His students were stunned upon learning the news; they just couldn’t believe that someone so influential could be gone in an instant. They felt subconsciously that he was almost too great to die. Working with him was a unique experience. Through running his lab, Professor Floudas gave off a feeling of omnipresence and omniscience. He always seemed genuinely interested in his interns’ projects and their progress, which motivated them without micromanaging them. In spite of his frequent travel, his students felt he was always there, and that was enough for them to do their best. He walked a fine line between being supportive and pushing his students to do more — the famous “it’s great, but it can be better.” He knew exactly what could be improved, offering a couple of nudges in the right direction. And his legendary work ethic was carefully cultivated into his students: One day, when Stella picked Jason up at the “ungodly” hour of 5:30 pm, early for the lab: “Σε καταλαβαίνω, είναι παιδί σου και τον λυπάσαι, αλλά πρέπει να μάθει» (I feel for you, he is your child and you want him to be comfortable, but he has to learn).
Chris and Fotini were always engaged in and supportive of the Greek Church and community. His attitude of generosity and charity were shaped by his family – as a child, he spent many Christmas and Easter days visiting charity homes in his native Ioannina rather than opening presents. Fotini served in the Trenton, N.J. Philoptohos board as president, and is now serving in the HPST board as Counselor. Ever the patrons of education, they enthusiastically embraced the scholarship cause. We thank the family for designating the HPST Scholarship fund as the non-profit organization to receive contributions in lieu of flowers.
Chris was exceptionally proud of his daughter, Ismini; you could see his eyes light up when he spoke of her, and her remarkable fiancé, Stefanos Baratsas. It adds to our sadness that he will not get to walk her down the aisle, but we are consoled that he got to see her find the love of her life and enjoy their engagement. Our hearts go out to her and especially to Fotini, the love of Chris’ life and his rock for over 35 years, who held the home fort and made his life possible. A life well lived.