John J. Ypsilantis

May 28, 1930 - June 8, 2018

Our beloved Uncle J.J. passed away peacefully under the watchful and loving care of the Salt Lake VA Home staff, and Bristol Hospice.  Many thanks to them (especially Angie, Francita, Eric, and Shantay) for easing the way.  

Forget the beer commercials—J.J. was truly the “Most Interesting Man in the World”.  He was the third child of Greek immigrant parents John A. and Eugenia J. Ypsilantis.  Their marriage was the classic mail order bride story of the early 20th century era.  His father John had been in America for a decade, scrimped, saved, and succeeded in building a sheep business with significant grazing properties.  This was his family heritage from the old country.  The next step was to put out the word to his Greek friends and family that he was a successful, eligible bachelor looking for a lovely bride from Greece.  He was blessed immensely when 19 year old Eugenia answered the call and fulfilled his dreams.  She was 19 years younger, but it was a wonderful marriage.

After only five years of marriage, J.J.’s father was struck by lightning and killed while tending his sheep herd during a violent storm when J.J. was only a few months old.  His mother showed true Spartan toughness by raising 3 kids under the age of 5, sending them to college (and beyond), and on to productive, unique lives.  She was 25 years old when she was widowed, couldn’t speak English well, and had no education.  What she did have was inner strength, faith, and discipline in abundance.  Her three children learned these attributes and applied them extremely well.

J.J. graduated from South High and attended the University of Utah, affiliating with Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity.  He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry in June of 1951.  His worldly adventures started by being drafted after graduation into the U.S. Army in October of 1951 at the peak of the Korean War.  He saw heavy front line action, showed the Spartan toughness of his heritage, suffered numerous injuries and frostbite, and was decorated for his valor.  He had a deep affection for his M-1 Garand rifle and sent it home to his mother, who thought that was a very bad idea.  It was probably good that the tank he was bartering for never panned out.

After his return to SLC, he always had a craving to live and work outside of the U.S.  This led to either owning businesses, working, or traveling in 31 countries based on his passport stamps.  (Vietnam—where he resided for 10 years and held a special place in his heart, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Phillipines, Korea, Australia, UK, Greece, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, France, Italy, Cyprus, Russia, Portugal, Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Israel, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, Chad).  Most people use very few pages of their passports, but J.J had 8 passport books that were jam-packed with stamps and visas.  He could speak 7 languages fluently, and wasn’t bad at many more.

It seemed that wherever there was a hot-spot in the world, J.J. was there.  He was in Iran when the Shah fell from power, having to bribe border guards with cash that was hidden in his special shoe.  He was one of the last to leave Saigon by helicopter when it fell to North Vietnam in 1975.  He arranged for many of his employees and associates to board the final evacuation helicopters before he evacuated.  Many people concluded that he must have been a CIA agent, but he vehemently denied that assertion to the very end.  

J.J. had uncommon humility.  He personally knew every commanding general of the US army in Vietnam from 1965 to 1975.  It was common knowledge, although unofficial, for every new commander to talk to JJ when they  landed in Vietnam to get the straight scoop on what was really happening during that war.  He was trusted and respected by all.  He met or escorted many USO stars who performed for the troops.  He provided briefings and insight for business and political leaders.  It wasn’t unusual to be having dinner and he would mention that he stayed at Steve McQueen’s house in Beverly Hills because they became friends when Steve toured Vietnam.  He just didn’t think it was unusual or unique to know these types of people.

His thirst for knowledge and learning was never quenched or diminished.  He would devour books, especially History and Autobiographies.  He enjoyed his daily N.Y. Times subscription wherever he lived and read it front-to-back every day for the last 35 years.  Incredibly worldly, well-read, intelligent, and witty, he could converse brilliantly on any topic.

He chose not to marry, believing the demands of his lifestyle would not be fair to a family.  He deeply loved and admired his mother (most of all), older brother Tom (world class particle physicist and part of a Nobel prize-winning team in Physics for the isolation of the anti-proton), older sister Mary (who was always the stable anchor and nurtured the family he loved as his own) and her husband Peter W. Souvall.  All of them preceded him in passing.

He is survived by niece Jeannie Souvall Paxten (Keath), and nephews William P. Souvall (Kim), and Tom P. Souvall, and 9 grand nieces and nephews.  J.J. entertained and enlightened all of us since his return to SLC in 2009.  He is deeply loved and will be always be remembered fondly.  May his memory be eternal.

viewing will be held on Thursday, June 14, 2018 from 6:00 - 8:00 PM at Starks Funeral Parlor, 3651 South 900 East, Salt Lake City. A funeral service will be held on Friday, June 15, 2018 at 10:00 AM at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, 279 S 300 W, Salt Lake City. Interment to follow at Mount Olivet Cemetery, 1342 E 500 S.