Glafcos Clerides, former President, former House Speaker, World War II hero, lawyer and sea dog, passed away on Friday, November 15 at the age of 94. Clerides dedicated all his life to Cyprus and its political problem and he was the greatest leader Cyprus has ever seen.
Born in Nicosia, on April 24, 1919, the son of prominent lawyer Ioannis Clerides, Glafcos Clerides served in World War II as a RAF radio operator and gunner. Soon after he returned to Cyprus, he fought against British Colonial Rule under the pseudonym Hyperides. In 1960, he was appointed by Archbishop Makarios the first House Speaker of the newly-born Republic of Cyprus. After the Turkish Invasion in 1974, Clerides served as acting president when Makarios was in exile, from July 1974 to December 1974. Clerides was the kind of man who would assume responsibility in times of crisis. Ironically, he had often been criticised for that. Oddly enough, whenever a crisis was diffused, it was Clerides that did the diffusing! He was the man who received chaos in 1974 and delivered a prosperous nation in 2003 which entered the EU one year later. In 1976, he founded right-wing DISY and in 1993 he was elected President of the Republic of Cyprus and was re-elected in 1998.
Last Tuesday, Glafcos Clerides received a state funeral with honours reserved for a leader who dies in office. Thousands of people packed the surrounding area at Saint Sophia Church in Strovolos Nicosia while a military band and armed soldiers accompanied the body of President Clerides carried on an artillery weapon. It was followed by President Nikos Anastasiades, the Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Clerides' only child, Katie. The members of the guard received the coffin, covered in the Greek and Cyprus flags and carried inside the church. Medals received by President Clerides for his World War II service were placed on it. He was buried at Saint Constantinos and Eleni cemetery in Nicosia next to his beloved wife Lila who died in 2007.
Glafcos Clerides was a great leader and a great man. He had something Churchillian about him. Was it that twinkle in his eyes, his amazing sense of humour, his cigar , the impression that he'd break into a smile as if something amusing was going on in his head? The truth is that behind the twinkle in his eyes lay a razor-sharp mind whose humour did not always mean negotiations or serious political matters were jolly occasions.
President Clerides was an honest man who consistently gave so much over so many years, setting a pattern for those who will try to follow in his footsteps. He never thought of personal gain, he never tried to take advantage of his position for financial gain. All he ever cared about was the fate of his country. He hated exaggeration, but I don't think it was a hyperbole what I wrote in the digital book of condolences : " Farewell to a great leader. He was the purest patriot and the greatest leader the Greek community has ever known." His legacy is his vision and pragmatism and the honour and pride with which he carried himself.