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Obituary (Sacramento Bee)

Obituary: George K. Tsakopoulos, patriarch of family of developers

Published Wednesday, Jun. 17, 2009

George K. Tsakopoulos, a proud Greek immigrant who achieved the American dream with a by-the-bootstraps drive that made him one of Sacramento's biggest landowners and developers, died Monday of cancer. He was 81.

Tsakopoulos was the patriarch of two generations of Sacramento's most prominent development family. Although often overshadowed in the news by his younger brother, developer and power broker Angelo K. Tsakopoulos, he left his own mark on the landscape during almost five decades in real estate.

He got his start flipping houses and went on to build or buy developments ranging from residential subdivisions to shopping centers, from suburban offices to downtown high-rises. He founded Tsakopoulos Investments, which acquired more than 12,000 acres in five Northern California counties.

His most recent major project was the 25-story Bank of the West tower, which opened last month on Capitol Mall. The job was headed by his son and business successor, Angelo G. Tsakopoulos.

"George cared deeply about his country, his community, and his family," Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickinson said. "His … contributions to improving our community leave a lasting legacy."

Tsakopoulos was a hands-on developer who dug trenches for his first shopping center in 1971 when he could not afford a contractor. Direct and plain-spoken, he was a demanding boss who "was personally involved in every project," architect Ed Kado said.

He spoke with a thick, Greek accent that sometimes was difficult to understand. As a businessman, however, he was "a straight shooter" whose "word was his bond," said Steve Brodie, a longtime insurance broker and friend.

Tsakopoulos was active in Republican Party politics as a fundraiser and supporter of President Ronald Reagan. He donated property to community groups and was a major financial contributor to Greek Orthodox churches.

Despite his community standing, he enjoyed a low profile in public. He was a private, down-to-earth man who avoided fancy parties and drove an old Ford pickup to business meetings. Fiscally conservative, he was proud that none of his development projects went into bankruptcy or foreclosure.

"Aside from his family, the thing my father valued most was his good reputation," Angelo G. Tsakopoulos said. "He put his home phone number on his business card so you could always reach him and deal with him directly. He took pride and stood behind everything he accomplished."

George Tsakopoulos was born in 1927 in Rizes, a village in southern Greece. As the eldest child, he quit school to help support the family when his father left to fight the German and Italian occupation during World War II.

He joined the Resistance near the end of the war and later fought in the army against communist guerrillas during the Greek civil war. It was a hard time that shaped his outlook, his brother said.

"It was a very difficult war – very bloody and very tough," Angelo K. Tsakopoulos said. "He developed feelings that were very anti-communist and pro-America. He was in love with America before he even got here.

"It's hard for people who live in America to truly appreciate what we have here. But that's what motivated him."

With $64 in his pocket, George Tsakopoulos immigrated to the United States in 1955 and worked in produce and meatpacking plants to send money to his family in Greece. He followed his brothers, Angelo and John, to California in 1960, settled in Sacramento and began buying and fixing up homes to sell.

He went on to build one of the first high-rises in Sacramento, an apartment building at 10th and E streets, and developed residential subdivisions and retail centers. He built or bought landmark properties, including the IMAX theater building, Point West Corporate Plaza, Esquire Plaza and the Bank of the West tower.

He married his wife, Drosoula, in 1966 and had two children. He enjoyed working in the vegetable garden of his Carmichael home and relaxing on fishing trips.

"We are similar in many ways," Angelo K. Tsakopoulos said. "We grew up together with the same parents, who taught us about caring and loving and togetherness. George reminded us of those things."