You know those moments in life when you can’t help but admit you’re not in charge? The death of my grandfather has been one of the most divinely orchestrated things I have ever experienced. He passed on Wednesday, May 27, 2015 with my brother holding his hand and my grandmother eagerly awaiting their reunion.
Grandpa had written his own bio in 2006 to share with his alma mater West Point and I’ve been tasked with turning it into an obituary. As I was retyping everything earlier this week, I was a wavering mess of laughter and tears. I’ll spare the full play-by-play, but George Soos was an amazingly generous, proud, selfless man. His full story, in his own words, is below. As for the purpose of this post and the complete awe I’ve experienced in grandpa’s death, there’s one specific detail that I find worth sharing.
While typing grandpa’s story, I was struck by one passage, in particular: “In May 1954, George became a graduate of West Point and a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. When the grades were posted in the sally ports and graduation was assured, George tried to reach his parents by telephone with the good news. At the same time, family members were trying to reach George to tell him his father had passed away. George always believed his father was aware of his achievement.”
In itself, absolutely amazing. On the same day and in the same moments, my great-grandfather died and the youngest of his twelve children, my grandfather, graduated from West Point. As I was marinating on this realization, my sister Courtney, who is in Atlanta sorting through grandpa’s belongings, sent me a text with an image of one of the many treasures she had found – a memoriam card from our great grandpa’s death.
On May 27, 1954, the day my grandfather graduated from West Point, my great grandfather passed away. 61 years later to the day, on May 27, 2015, my grandfather passed away.
Some people believe in coincidences, I believe everything happens for a reason. Well played.
GEORGE CHARLES SOOS
February 18, 1932 – May 27, 2015
Born on February 18, 1932, in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, George was the last of twelve children in his family. Of the twelve children born, only ten survived to become adults. None of George’s siblings are alive today. His parents had immigrated to the United Stats in the early 1900’s from the European dual monarchy called Austria-Hungary. His mother came from the country now called Czechoslovakia. His father came from Hungary. While his parents spoke English well enough to become citizens of the United States, they spoke Hungarian to each other and taught Slavic to the children. Prior to entering elementary school, George was more fluent in Slavic than English, which, at that time, was his second language.
The Soos parents instilled a strong work ethic in all their children. George received his social security card at age thirteen so that he could work from 6P to 11PM as a pinsetter in a bowling alley. He would bring his school homework with him so that he could study between setting the pins. From there, in the summers, he mowed lawns, worked as a day laborer on a farm, and as a caddy. He became a trackman for the Pennsylvania Railroad. The work on the railroad was physically demanding but also a great conditioner for George before the start of his senior year football season. The money he earned was shared with his parents.
During his high school years, George maintained his grades for the Honor Roll while he joined the football and basketball teams. At first, he was on the junior varsity and then, in his senior year, he became the starting center and linebacker on the football team and the starting center on the basketball team. His football teammates elected him as their co-captain. The opposing coaches who selected him as the first team center in the AA Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic League recognized his athletic ability. He was also selected as an All-County basketball player. These awards led to his recruitment by Army and other Division I schools. His father deemed that there could be no greater recognition for an immigrant to this country than having his son accept the appointment to “West Point, the best school in America.”
Once at the Academy, George was no so sure that he had bargained for these experiences in his new life. Beast Barracks at the time was exactly as the name it was given. It was July when this regime had started and George kept praying for football season to come and to end the plebe training. As the season came, George did well enough to become the starting nose-guard on the first defensive unit and he earned his numerals for the season. Unfortunately, an injury caused an interruption to his playing time. The doctor recommended knee surgery, which was unacceptable. George came to the Academy with the goal of becoming a pilot in the Air Force. The scuttlebutt was that if you had a knee operation you would not qualify for flight training. Physical therapy and dropping football preserved George and helped him get through his next three years, so that he succeeded in getting his Air Force pilot opportunity. It was during this time that Eleanor Ann Anderson and George met each other on a blind date at West Point. Shortly thereafter, they became engaged to be married. Incidentally, George coached the L-2 intramural football team to the finals in the regimental championship. The team lost, but the L-2 flankers put on a great effort.
In May 1954, George became a graduate of West Point and a Second Lieutenant in the United Stated Air Force. When the grades were posted in the sally ports and graduation was assured, George tried to reach his parents by telephone with the good news. At the same time, family members were trying to reach George to tell him his father had passed away. George always believed his father was aware of his achievement.
A highlight of becoming an Air Force officer happened while he was still a cadet. An Army football hero, Doc Blanchard, helped George select the proper uniforms he would need to begin his service. George and his bride, Eleanor, reported to Bainbridge Air Force Base, Georgia to begin pilot training in single-engine Piper Cub and T-6 aircraft. From there, the family, with new son Robert, moved to Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock, Texas. Wings were earned in qualifying in the B-25 twin-engine plane. Next, it was off to McChord Air Force Base, Tacoma, Washington and the transitioning to fly C-124 four-engine Globemasters. This was his first assignment in an operating squadron of the Military Air Transport Service (MATS). While flying for the 32nd Squadron of MATS, the young Soos family began to grow with a wife, a son and the addition of a new baby daughter, Belinda. There were twice-a-month flights to Anchorage or Fairbanks in Alaska, along with an additional flight to Hawaii en route to Japan, Taiwan or other Pacific destinations. These flights meant three weeks away from home and one week with the family. The flight time, instrument landing capabilities, and qualifications for Aircraft Commander also grew rapidly. With over three thousand hours of flying time, George was a First Lieutenant when he resigned his commission in September 1958. George was honorably discharged from the United Stated Air Force.
It was the beginning of a career path that encompassed private industry, not-for-profit organizations, institutions and government. In November, George accepted the opportunity to become Junior Engineer at Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO), a natural gas and electricity utility located in Hicksville, New York.
At the outset of his new career, George became active in his community. He joined Kiwanis, a service club, and the Republican Club, a political organization. His work ethic was soon recognized, as he was elected Secretary of the Kiwanis Club and was appointed by the Republican Club President as the Chairman of the Community Affairs Committee, which covered the activities of the Village Board of Trustees. This led to a collateral career in various local government part-time positions. Initially, he was elected the youngest Trustee in the Village of Williston Park at the age of 28. The competition for the position included a fellow Kiwanian, who was Treasurer of the same club where George was Secretary. Kiwanis dinner meetings were held weekly, so there were some interesting dinners until the election was over. The family began to grow again as Eleanor Kaci, a second daughter, joined the Soos family. Three months after completing his two-year term as Village Trustee, George was offered the appointment of Councilman in the Town of North Hempstead with a population of about 250,000 people. The Town Board is the legislative body of the local government. He accepted the appointment and was elected that November to complete the remaining two years of a four-year term. Then, he was successfully re-elected three more times. One election involved a primary election for the nomination and two other elections were for the full four-year terms of the office of Councilman. Twice, George was asked to give up his private industry career for the full-time position of Supervisor of the Town. Since his options were limited to part-time government positions, he decided to discontinue seeking elective office. He was progressing in the private sector and potential areas for conflict of interest were perceived, as his private industry responsibilities became greater.
After nearly two years of being out of government service, the Nassau County Executive asked George to serve as a Member of the Nassau County Public Employment Relations Board. This group acts as the moderators between labor unions and management of the County and services the panel of labor arbitrators for the County. George accepted the appointment and served the county for fifteen years on this Board
His career at LILCO continued to advance, as well, and he was given more responsibility with each promotion. These executive positions included Director, Office of Public Relations; Manager, Corporate Information; Public Relations and Administration; and, Engineer, Underground Line & Mains Dept. In his last position, he managed the activities of 72 professional and staff personnel with a budget of $6 million. His group developed and implemented the corporate communications plan, community and government relations program, real estate and right-of-way activities, and the regional economic development strategy. After 26 years of company service, George applied for early retirement to accept a new position in the not-for-profit industry.
Encouraged by various business leaders, George became President of the Long Island Forum for Technology, Inc. (LIFT) located in Farmingdale, New York. At the time, LIFT was failing as an organization and was desperately in need of an innovative manager to get the organization back on track. LIFT is a nonprofit membership organization of high technology driven corporations and institutions in the Nassau-Suffolk SMSA, New York. Nearly 3 million people reside in this SMSA, so the population is greater than that of 26 states in our country. Under George’s tutelage, the annual budget was increased from $28,000 to $320,000. Membership grew and the programs of high tech information monthly breakfast meetings were well attended and successful. Recognizing the importance of the federal government support of high tech industry, every two or three months, key Congressmen were invited to meet personally with the CEOs of the high tech companies of Long Island. Also, a grant of $152,000 was obtained for creation of a technology database detailing the high tech resources of Long Island. He directed the development and implementation of programs in support of the continuing expansion and improvement of high technology industry. These activities included defense diversification programs, implementation of total quality management, and nurturing small businesses with pre-business planning, technology transfer and venture capital. As president, George served six years and initiated the self-evaluation of the organization for future direction.
After leaving Long Island at the urging of family members, Eleanor and Georg spent a year in Atlanta and almost two years in Chicago. The solution to returning was based on a Christmas request to George from Eleanor; for a Christmas gift, she wanted to return to New York. George promised to return if he could find an appropriate position on Long Island. In contacting a group of his old colleagues, George interviewed for the position of Vice President, Office of Development & External Funding SUNY College at Old Westbury, New York. The President was a female who know George from his work at LILCO and at LIFT. The College is a four-year Arts and Sciences institution within the State University of New York system. The Vice President was responsible for alumni relations, fundraising, community relations, public relations, and services for providing design and production of printed documents for the College. In addition, this office was assigned to develop and promote as revenue producers certain vacant on campus facilities. He initiated a year-round matrix for alumni communications and solicitations, a Senior (graduating) Class gift program, Scholarship Patron Awards for unrestricted scholarships, a new Fall fundraising event and Pledge Cards for staff payroll deductions of gifts. The College Foundation annual income was increased from $235,000 to over $520,000. Off-campus volunteer committees were created for fundraising. The Jackie Robinson Sports Facility Committee pledged a goal of $225,000 and the CyberTech Information Center Committee set a goal of $500,000. After four years of progress and with the retirement of the president who hired him, change in his status occurred. As it is traditional at higher educational institution, the new president brought in his own people and George was left unemployed at the age of 67, but still too young to retire.
In seeking employment for a new career track, an opportunity was presented to George to revert back to local government. His local government contacts recommended George to the Village Clerk/Treasurer, who was retiring. Still performing at a high level, George opted to retire on December 30, 2002. At the request of the Village Mayor and Board of Trustees, he continued working for the Village of Roslyn. He accepted the position of Administrator/Deputy Treasurer as he continued to train his staff s that he could finally end his working career. Everyone suspected he would never retire. Most likely, he will find some important volunteer work that needs to be done and he will do it.
All of his career activities provided for and/or necessitated additional education and training opportunities. Along with his graduation with a BS degree from US Military Academy at West Point, NY, George received Certificates from: School of Business, Hofstra University; School of Business, University of Michigan; and others (Advanced Communications Techniques, Barney Fletcher Schools of Atlanta; Development Systems International; and US Chamber of Commerce). He attended Harper College, Palatine, Illinois to become a Licensed Appraiser in Illinois.
George served in leadership capacities for various nonprofit groups. Among them are: American Heart Association, Nassau Chapter (Board Member); American Legion (Member); American Red Cross, Nassau County Chapter (Chairman); Association of Graduates, USMA (Member); Community Church of East Williston (President); LILCO Charitable Trust (Trustee); Nassau Convention and Visitors Bureau (Board Member); NY Power Tool – Public Relations Committee Chairman; NY Gas Group – NYCOM Committee (Chairman); PRSA, LI Chapter (President); United Way of LI (Campaign Cabinet); WLIW, Channel 21, public television (Trustee); Williston-Albertson Republican Committee (Executive Leader); Nassau County Republican Committee (Committeeman); Republican Club of the Willistons (Past President); and, chairmanship of various fundraising committees. Other memberships have included Habitat for Humanity, Business & Technology Alliance of Atlanta, and Kiwanis of Sandy Springs, GA.
The people he served recognized his volunteer service. He was listed among Long Island’s Top 100 Influentials – ’92, ’91, and ’90. He received the 1989 Long Island Leadership Award by LI Business News. The Nassau County Chapter American Red Cross presented George with the Clara Barton Medal and Nassau County Good Neighbor Award. He was the County Seat Kiwanian of the year 1981. George received the President’s Award and Club Service Award, Kiwanis Club of the Willistons. The Public Relations Society of America, LI Chapter selected his company LILCO as the PR PROs of the Year.
While George and Eleanor were in Atlanta and Chicago, they continued their employment activities. Eleanor worked in the medical offices for more than thirty years. She worked in facilities for eye surgery and dermatology in Atlanta and Chicago. George worked as a contract employee for a property appraisal company in Atlanta and two shoe industry groups in Chicago.
And, our family keeps growing:
Most important is the commitment made by Eleanor and George Soos to the family values reflected in their progeny. Eleanor and George were proud parents to Robert William, a lawyer on Staten Island and his wife Maureen (Missy), a math teacher in parochial school; Belinda Ann (Indy), Speech and Language Pathology Doctorate in Atlanta and her husband Steven Cesari, entrepreneur extraordinary, and Eleanor Kaci (Kaci), owner of a wonderfully successful embroidery business and her husband Chris Smith, top flight realtor. They were also proud grandparents of Robert William Jr. (Kyra), Ryan George and Ashley Colleen; Courtney Nicole, Stefany Paige, Whitney Ann, and Matthew Steven (Kathryn); and Clayton Joseph and Grant Parker.