Cleo (Kleanthe) Nikakis (nee Siganakis) passed away on 22 April from a heart attack at the age of 90. Though she lived a full life, her passing at a time when coronavirus restrictions are in place adds grief to the grief already felt by those who loved her.
Her daughter, Fiona Strintzos, wishes she could have been there holding her mother’s hand. She tells us of the thousands who had attended her father’s funeral in 1977, and believes her mother deserved as much and yet, not even all her grandchildren could pay their last respects due to COVID-19 measures.
She spent her last days at an aged care home in lockdown but, luckily, her daughter was able to have a Zoom meeting in the hours before she died. “Her last words were ‘tell them all, I love them all’,” Fiona says.
Those last words were the words she had always lived by as a dutiful daughter, supportive wife and doting mother whose children still have the diaries where she carefully documented their first words, feelings and childhood milestones.
Born in Chania, Crete, in 1930. Cleo lived across the road from Eleftherios Venizelos’ house which, unfortunately, during the war was converted to Gestapo headquarters. They were scary times for the young woman who was bright and at the top of the class with dreams of entering university before coming to Australia to marry Michael Nikakis, a prominent restaurateur who was 17 years her senior.
With his street-smart nature and her intellect and love of culture, the two became a very prominent and well-known couple in the Greek community.
Fiona shared Cleo’s photos, letters, exquisite embroideries with Neos Kosmos – remnants of a life fully lived. “Underneath the smile was a woman who did everything with passion. She worked hard handling the business side of my father’s restaurants,” Fiona told Neos Kosmos, speaking of “a feminist before her time”.
“She particularly valued education, and though it was denied to her, she wanted to make sure we got a good one,” Fiona said.
Cleo Nikakis leaves behind her children George and Anastasia, Kosta and Yayoi, and Theano and Peter. She is also the loving grandmother of Claire, Sarah, Julia, Michaela and Liam, Miro, Michael, Kosta and Aspasia, and the loving great grandmother of Milla, Max, Peter, Kleos, Olympia and Lilla.
The remarkable life story of Cleo, Michael and Lonsdale Street will be featured in next Saturday’s edition of Neos Kosmos.