Entrepreneur, philanthropist, family man, a patriotic Greek and stalwart of his community, Matthew Lepouris was a leading example of the guts, determination and hard work needed to migrate from post-war Greece to the ‘lucky country’ and amass great success.
In a land ravaged and reeling by two consecutive wars, Matthew managed to complete his Year 12 schooling in Greece, an astonishing and rare achievement at the time. He then made the life-changing decision to migrate to Australia, a move that paid off more than he could ever imagine and saw him enjoy great prosperity until his last days.
Born in Keratea, Attiki on 8 October 1936 to Ioannis Liepouris and Anastasia Papanikolaou, he was the seventh child out of eight, having four brothers and three sisters, one of who was a nun.
Like most Greek families at the time, they were an extremely devout Greek Orthodox family whose life revolved solely around the church and Matthew was a chanter in church from a very young age.
Due to the hardships imposed by the Second World War and the Nazi occupation, he learned the importance of being entrepreneurial from a young age, walking from Keratea to Lavrio before school to sell produce, and working in his father’s barbershop.
In 1956 he made the month-long trip to Australia with one suitcase in hand, travelling on board the ship Kyrenia, following his older brother Vangelis who had migrated to Australia to seek economic opportunities and then inviting Matthew and their two brothers to join him. The ship docked in Melbourne, and Matthew then caught the train to Sydney to join his brother in a house in Carabella Street, Kirribilli.
Matthew immediately threw himself into hard work, working night shifts at Crown Crystal Glass for 13 pounds per week, driving a taxi and working as a barber during the day and then cutting hair at a hospital on the weekends. He then started his own business as a barber in Elizabeth Street and later started buying properties, having saved 3,000 pounds and taking out a loan from the bank mortgaging three barber’s chairs.
Over the coming decades, Matthew bought and ran many businesses, including barber shops, a dry cleaning business, a hairdressing salon, a retail clothing chain, and a pressing and pleating business for the clothing industry.
His greatest financial success came from acquisitions in real estate and from having the talent for finding opportunities, growing from humble beginnings to creating a substantial fortune.
Matthew had what his family called at home the ‘Midas touch,’ as everything he touched turned to gold. Throughout his years in Australia Matthew, continued to send money to his parents in Keratea until their deaths.
In 1960, Matthew met Georgina Tzoulianou from Perissos, Athens who had also migrated to Australia, and they were married by His Eminence Archbishop Ezekiel on the 17th January 1963. They had two daughters, Anastasia, and Angela (Evangelia), born two years apart. Matthew purchased his first family home at Upper Pitt St, Kirribilli and then later bought a house in Neutral Bay where the family was raised.
The social life of the family revolved around the Greek Orthodox Church in Crows Nest where his daughters attended religious, social and cultural events during their upbringing.
After his children were grown and independent, Matthew and Georgina divorced and Matthew’s second partner in life became Molly Chiotis who had two daughters of her own, Grace Chiotis and Marianna Kourianakis.
Matthew became a proud grandfather when his daughter Anastasia and son-in-law Dimitrios Markakis had two children, Anthony in 1991 and Matthew in 1995. Later, Matthew’s youngest daughter Angela and son-in-law Claude Cipolla, had twin girls in 1998, Bianca and Yasmine.
“We loved that our pappou dedicated considerable time to bond with us throughout our upbringing and mentor us during different stages of our lives,” says grandson Anthony Markakis on behalf of his family. “He inspired us to develop a vision for our life, and then motivated us to work extremely hard and make sacrifices in order to achieve our goals and objectives.”
“In particular, pappou encouraged us to concentrate on our education, attend university and find a career that we were passionate and enthusiastic about. Pappou also taught us the importance of family values and to be proud of our Greek culture and customs. We loved how he always reached out to us to offer guidance, support, and love. We have many fond memories, especially our customary mid-week bonding lunches which pappou frequently organised with all four of the grandchildren. “
Matthew was a firm believer that to succeed you did not need to be of high intellect, nor to start with substantial funds. Rather, it was about recognising, seizing and developing opportunities. He believed in hard work, making sacrifices for his family, being philanthropic and assisting family, friends and people in need.
He taught his children that work and sacrifice were essential to achieving goals and dreams. “Pappou was never shy to share his life experiences, wisdom and 'one-liners' with us,” says Anthony. “One of our favourite lines which he often shared was- ‘If you love your job, you will never work a day in your life.’
A proud Greek, he was extensively involved in the Greek and the wider Australian community. Matthew became part-owner of soccer club Sydney Olympic, which under his leadership won a Premier League, National Championship and became the most loved soccer team amongst Sydney's Greek community.
Matthew was also part of AHEPA, Rotary, Yenibis Foundation, and a supporter of the Greek Orthodox Church and the Greek Young Matron’s Association, amongst other broader charitable and community causes.
“Pappou regularly attended and supported charitable, social and community events,” says Anthony. “He equally had an interest in the Greek Orthodox church. Having grown up in a devout Christian home, pappou learned how to be a chanter in Greece, and in Australia, he continued to attend church frequently."
His love and dedication to the church was formally recognised in 2016, when he was honoured to be acknowledged by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia as a benefactor, being the recipient of the St. Andrew’s Gold Cross.
“Pappou proudly identified working and spending time with family as his two favourite enjoyable activities,” says Anthony. “In terms of work, he never retired and worked right to the moment of his passing, and especially loved running his property business - a person with a truly dedicated work ethic!”
“Outside of work, pappou was very passionate about sport and was a proud supporter of Panathinaikos FC and Sydney Olympic FC, and followed the NRL and Australian Open. He also closely monitored the news, particularly the Financial Review.”
Sadly, Matthew passed away on the evening of Friday the 25th January 2019 from leukemia, surrounded by his beloved family. He will be cherished in the hearts of his family and friends.
Greek City Times wishes to extend its condolences to the family of Matthew Lepouris.