Alex George Kavounis, or Al as he was well-known, was born in Greenville, South Carolina on June 18, 1927. The third of five children, Al was, by the many accounts of his siblings Carrie, Andy, Sandy, and Mike, a mischievous youth. His mother, Marika, would require young Al to accompany her everywhere, explaining to her neighbors in Greek, Eínai kakós (“He’s bad”). (Family lore suggests that Marika’s refusal to let Al out of her sight was incited by a women’s luncheon at the Kavounis house that ended with a too-raucous game of Cowboys and Indians, a guest’s child tied up, and a small fire.) Despite his penchant for troublemaking, Al quickly won friends with a gregarious demeanor, and he charmed the girls with the twinkle in his eyes.
From a young age, Al and his siblings worked at the family restaurant, Western Café. When the Army base in Greenville shut down, causing the restaurant to lose much of its clientele, Al’s parents moved the family and the Café to Spartanburg, South Carolina when Al was around nine years old. As he entered his adolescence, his father, George, began training him to manage the restaurant. Al found himself reluctant to follow in his father’s footsteps, but he was unsure of what path would provide him fulfillment. Looking for an activity that would provide exercise and social interaction, he tried out for the Spartanburg High School football team. Little did he know that his position as a guard would change the trajectory of his life.
Al was lean, fast, and powerful, and he quickly became the star of the team’s offense (and the school). Teammates who didn’t like the young Greek man would browbeat him, calling him “Hot Dog Boy” (in a derisive reference to his family’s work in the service industry). The girls, however, referred to him as “Greek Adonis.” The attention, both positive and negative, only encouraged him to work harder, and when university scouts began attending practices and games to watch Kavounis, his teammates’ jeers disappeared.
The teen athlete looked for ways to expand his training regimen, so he took classes at the local YMCA to become a certified lifeguard. He spent many of his summer days working at the beach and saved many unprepared young swimmers from rogue waves and powerful tides. Soon, he realized his passions were for athletics and helping young people, and thus his dream of becoming a teacher was born. When the college football offers arrived, Al selected the University of South Carolina for his degree and education for his major.
His dreams would be delayed, however. He was drafted into the Army right after his high school graduation and served several years during World War II in Army Company E, 60th Infantry. Upon his honorable discharge in 1947, he enrolled as a Gamecock, studying education and hygiene and playing football. Between his presence in the classroom, his moves on the field, and his classic good looks, the hall phone in his dormitory rang often with young ladies seeking to spend some time with Al. However, it wasn’t until he met Kiki Mimidis at a wedding that he ever considered settling down. The two were inseparable, and they married while Al was still enrolled at USC in June 1949, living in an apartment near campus while Al continued his studies.
By 1951 the couple was expecting their first child, so they moved to Hillcrest Heights, Maryland to help care for Al’s parents. In 1952 their first daughter, Mary Helen, was born, and over the next ten years, they added to their family with Alice, Aleco, and Johnny. Looking for a career that would better provide for his growing family, Al, his brother Andy, and his brother-in-law Eddie, founded the O So Good Bottling Company. While managing the company, he also raised his children to share his love of athletics, coaching his sons’ American Legion baseball teams for years. He also instilled in them pride for their Greek heritage, sending them to Greek school at Saint Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church. For the next 15 years, the family – and the bottling company – were successful, until the 1968 DC riots destroyed the business.
With little capital to strike out again as an entrepreneur, Al took a position in the construction industry. His charm, his quick wit, and his athletic prowess helped him rise to the role of Superintendent. In the industry, Al was known for his attention to detail, his exceptionally high standards, and his uncanny ability to complete jobs on time and under budget. His reputation preceded him on job sites through many decades of economic uncertainty, and he worked on sites until he was in his early 70s.
In the early 1990s, Al and Kiki experienced the tragic loss of their daughter Alice and her husband Tommy. Soon after, Al and Kiki reprised their roles as parents by moving to Herndon, Virginia and raising Alice and Tommy’s two children, Cindy and Brian. Al and Kiki attended school conferences, sporting events, and graduations in the following years, seeing Cindy and Brian through not only middle and high school but through successful college careers as well. During this time Al supplemented his retirement income by dealing blackjack for a local entertainment company. The gigs provided him social interaction and kept his brain active, and he was often recognized around town by partygoers who had been captivated by his charm and personal anecdotes.
Once Cindy and Brian were settled in their own homes and lives, Al and Kiki moved to Manassas, Virginia where they lived in active retirement, attending family functions and reunions and playing bingo and cards (Gin Rummy and five-card stud being favorites of Al’s). They happily celebrated births of nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Al, true to his educator’s heart and his outgoing personality, was always eager to hold and play with the babies, sometimes eliciting tears from the ones less familiar with his booming, throaty voice. He was happiest when surrounded by family with everyone’s ear so he could regale the crowd with one of his well-known “stories.” The ability to recite one of Papou’s (as he is known to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren) stories verbatim is a family rite of passage.
When Al’s bride passed away in 2015, he moved to a retirement community in Fredericksburg, Virginia to be nearer his daughter Mary Helen and family. In late 2019, he moved to Charlotte Hall Veteran’s Home in Charlotte Hall, Maryland. He was well-known at both establishments, greeting everyone he met and maintaining his love for playing cards, telling stories, and watching football.
Al Kavounis passed away at age 92 on Wednesday, May 13, 2020 at Charlotte Hall. He is survived by his sister Sandy, three children, eight grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren. Friends and family celebrate a man who served family, country, and community. They will cherish memories of his voracious appetite for blue crabs, his energetic cannonballs off diving boards, and his boisterous viewings of Redskins games. Most of all, they will remember his example of squeezing every drop of life out of one’s years on Earth.
A closed family viewing is scheduled for Thursday, May 21 with a closed family service immediately after. Interment is at Quantico National Cemetery on Saturday, May 23.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Charlotte Hall Veterans Home in memory of Al Kavounis. Donations can be made at https://www.charhall.org/content/donations/ or by calling Ashley Radano at Charlotte Hall: (301) 884-8171 extension 664.