Beloved Pike County man dies after battle with 9/11-linked leukemia

Tom Kontizas to be remembered in a Mass on Monday at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church


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Photos



  • All of Tommy’s friends got together at the Phoenix on Route 209 to show their love and support  for this very special man. (Photo by Alan Kaplan)




  • Tom and Karen Kontizas (Photo courtesy of Karen Kontizas)



Tommy exuded warmth and empathy, and many, many people here and around the world returned his love with prayers, emotional support, and love. He fought a very brave, long battle to survive and will always remain a hero.


By Marilyn Rosenthal

Everyone knew him as “Tommy.” He was the man with the big, welcoming smile; the man who volunteered to help anyone and everyone, without even having to be asked. He was a retired firefighter with Engine 312 in Queens, N.Y., for 25 years, and also a certified tennis instructor who gave fabulous fun lessons to kids in Pike County where Tom Kontizas and his wife, Karen Greco Kontizas, have lived for decades.

Tommy was the guy who, at the end of a local community meeting, always remembered to get up and thank all the forgotten volunteers who worked so hard. He often referred to people as “My brother” or “My sister,” as in “Be well, my brother” “Thanks, my sister,” even though they were not related to him. This was partly the result of a tradition started in the firehouse back in New York, but it was also an expression of his warmth, and his very humane view of the world — treating everyone like family.

So, it was ironic that a few days after 9/11, Thomas K. Kontizas, recently retired, volunteered at Ground Zero and joined a team of firefighters that spent many days labeling and documenting bodies. His death was attributed to the 9/11-linked AML (Acute Myeloid Leukemia), a blood cancer caused by the very high levels of dust and debris at the site. Nobody knew at the time what havoc 9/11 would wreak years later upon first responders and volunteers.

Tommy loved life and lived it to the fullest. He and Karen were soulmates. They were married for nearly 44 years. They met as teenagers and sustained a fabulous love that was one for the storybooks. They traveled to Panama, Florida, Greece, and Rome, among other places, and shared their journeys and their love with many friends. Tom always was doing little special things to show his love for his “wonderful Karen,” like the time he surprised her in the Bahamas on their 30th wedding anniversary by inviting friends and a priest, and having myriad flowers to renew their wedding vows.

Tommy exuded warmth and empathy, and many, many people here and around the world returned his love with prayers, emotional support, and love. He fought a very brave, long battle to survive and will always remain a hero.

Editor's note: A Mass will be held at the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church for the family and friends of Tom Kontizas on Monday, June 25, at 11 a.m. Please see his obituary on page 16 or follow this link: https://bit.ly/2JVh0Y7.





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