New Greek TV's featured Greek of the Week is Mike Manatos.
The Greek-American who is a native of Washington, D.C., serves as the Senior Vice President of Manatos & Manatos (M&M), a public policy and government relations firm. M&M has shaped U.S. policymaking for more than a quarter of our country's history. The Washington Post called M&M "one of the most powerful lobbying firms," while U.S. News & World Report described the Manatos family as "lobbying royalty."
A leading advocate for Greek and Orthodox issues, Manatos has been honored as an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, carried the Olympic flame during the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, and is a Leadership 100 and National Hellenic Society Board of Director, among other endeavors. In our interview below, the father-of-three discusses his career highlights, inspirations, Greek-American efforts, highest honors, and more.
Maria Athens: Can you offer a brief overview of your career?
Mike Manatos: After graduating from Princeton University in 1990, with a major in Political Science and a minor in Hellenic Studies, I began working at the country's only professional lobbying firm for Hellenic and Orthodox issues - Manatos & Manatos. It is where I have spent every day of the 25 years of my career lobbying senior US policymakers on issues of concern to the national Greek-American community.
Maria Athens: What have been the highlights of your vast professional accomplishments?
Mike Manatos: Working alongside my father for 25 years on these issues about which we are so passionate has been very rewarding. One accomplishment for Hellenic and Orthodox issues that stands out is our community's annual meeting with the President of the United States, that we created and have maintained in each of the last 29 years, with all five presidents who have served during that time.
The only other ethnic community to meet with the President each year is the Irish-American community, the second largest nationality in the US (1 out of 9 Americans). Yet, Greek-Americans are only one half of one percent of Americans.
Another would be securing for His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew the highest and oldest honor the United States Congress can bestow - the Congressional Gold Medal, first received by George Washington. When His All Holiness received this in 1997 he was only the fifth religious leader in the 223 year history of this honor to receive it, the fourth being Mother Theresa.
Maria Athens: Can you describe your experiences being honored as an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate?
Mike Manatos: It was a tremendous honor to be selected by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to serve our church this way. While it is the highest lay honor in the Orthodox Church and the longest standing lay honor in Christendom, it a commitment that I and my over 700 fellow Archons take very seriously. It is the sworn oath of the Archon to defend and promote the Greek Orthodox faith and tradition and to serve as a bulwark to protect and promote the Holy Patriarchate and its mission.
I was particularly humbled as I was the Order's first third-generation Archon, as both my grandfather and father were before me, and I was one of the youngest to become an Archon.
Maria Athens: What inspired you to dedicate your time and energy for the promotion of Hellenism in the United States?
Mike Manatos: My grandfather and father were and to this day are my inspiration. My papou and namesake, Mike Manatos, was the first Greek-American to work in the White House, serving as President Kennedy's and President Johnson's Liaison to the US Senate. My father was the youngest Assistant Secretary in President Carter's administration. Prior to that they each spent many years working in the US Senate.
They both did all they could from these positions of power in Washington to move US policy to support Hellenic and Orthodox issues. For example, my father orchestrated the efforts in the US Senate to impose the US arms embargo on Turkey after its 1974 invasion of Cyprus. And, when President Carter asked him to lobby the US Congress to remove that embargo, my father offered his resignation.
When they were both out of government in 1983 they opened Manatos & Manatos and continued the fight for Hellenism and Orthodoxy from the private sector. I joined the firm and that fight in 1990.
For over 80 years now, a Manatos has been working in or with the federal government, always with an eye toward promoting and protecting Hellenism and Orthodoxy. For many years now our firm has contributed - each year - over $5 million worth of free lobbying work to Hellenic and Orthodox issues.
Maria Athens: Can you tell us about your heavy involvement in charity work?
Mike Manatos: 18 years ago I participated in the Make-A-Wish Foundation triathlon and raised over $1,000 for the charity. Every year since, I've competed in this race, raised funds for the Foundation and, with each year, have increased my involvement with this wonderful organization. I've now served on the Foundation's Board three times and through the generosity of family and friends raised over $750,000 and with these funds granted over 100 wishes, bringing hope, strength and joy to children with life-limiting illnesses.
In addition, my wife and I support a number of other charities, for many of which she emcees their fundraising events. These include LLS (the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society), breast cancer organizations, The National Council for Adoption, Autism Speaks, National Down Syndrome Society and the Children's National Medical Center.
Maria Athens: What personal and professional feats are you most proud of?
Mike Manatos: While I'm proud of a number of my professional accomplishments for Hellenism and Orthodoxy and my personal accomplishments for charities for children, I'm most proud of what drives both - my family.
I was incredibly blessed to have been born into a family of pioneers with tremendous integrity, compassion, faith and humility and to have been raised by two parents and with three brothers who - in addition to maintaining the family values of our pioneers - surrounded me with constant and unconditional love and support, that continues to this day.
My wife, Laura, and I have continued this family tradition in raising our three young children - Sienna (9), Andrea (7) and Lucas (5). And, as a result, I have been blessed beyond my wildest dreams with my greatest accomplishment - my family.
Maria Athens: How did it feel carrying the Olympic torch during the Athens 2004 Summer Olympics?
Mike Manatos: It was a great honor and fitting tribute to two of my life's passions - Hellenism and athletics. I still have on my wall, and look at often, a picture of me receiving the Olympic flame.
Maria Athens: Can you discuss your roles as a Board of Director at both the Leadership 100 & National Hellenic Society?
Mike Manatos: I was humbled and honored to be invited to serve as a Board Member of these two fantastic organizations. I greatly enjoy working with them to not only provide crucial support to Orthodoxy and Hellenism, but also in cultivating the "next generation" of Hellenes, perhaps out community's greatest charge.
Maria Athens: Can you tell us about your own Greek-American background?
Mike Manatos: We are proud Cretans! We come from a small town outside of Chania, called "Xiliomouthou." My great grandfather, Nick Manatos, immigrated to the US 105 years ago. Despite my efforts to learn - Greek school growing up and two years of modern Greek language at Princeton - I do not speak Greek well at all. However, I have visited Greece often but can never visit enough.
Maria Athens: How big of a role does your ethnicity play in your daily life?
Mike Manatos: My ethnicity is a part of everything I do. I constantly draw on my heritage and faith as a source of strength, guidance and inspiration.
Maria Athens: What's next for Mike Manatos?
Mike Manatos: Stay tuned! As someone who follows Cretan author Niko Kazantzakis' words in El Greco - to "reach what you cannot" - the best is yet to come.