It was 2009 and Tim Tsotsonis wanted
to work as an electrician again after a nearly 22-year absence. And he wanted to help others as a way of saying thanks for
the help his family received caring for son Alexander, who has cerebral palsy.
|Tsotsonis aboard his bike.
So, at the age of 63, the Houston Local 716 member returned to the job. He also took up bicycling and began entering long distance rides, including the BP MS 150, a two-day, 180-mile ride between Houston and Austin, Texas in late April.
“The purpose of life is to live it to the fullest with no regrets,” Tsotsonis said. “We have one chance to live life on this planet. We have to live with dignity and purpose, to not be selfish and help others at the same time.”
When it comes to living life to the fullest, it’s hard to top Tsotsonis, even at the age of 71.
“I think he gets up and can’t wait to get to work,” said Local 716 Business Manager John Easton Jr., a member of the International Executive Council. “Just having that positive attitude and positive spirit has to be uplifting to people around you.”
Discovering the American Dream
Tsotsonis grew up in Corinth, Greece, about 50 miles west of Athens, and was fascinated by American culture. Some of his earliest memories are watching Westerns starring John Wayne. Later, he was enamored by movies set in Las Vegas starring Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.
“I thought ‘My goodness, I need to go to America,” he said. “That is the place for me.’ I loved the lifestyle.”
He finished high school during the day and attended electrical school at night before a compulsory stint in the Greek army, where he serviced electrical generators. Following his discharge, Tsotsonis went to the American Consulate in Athens to ask about moving to the United States, but found he didn’t meet the standards to emigrate.
Canadian officials, however, noted his electrical training; he moved to Montreal in 1970 and went through an IBEW apprenticeship program there and became a journeyman inside wireman. He met his wife Eva. He learned to speak French and English.
But moving to the U.S. never left his mind. He and Eva went on a driving vacation around the U.S. in 1978. In Houston, he saw plenty of construction going on, so he approached a foreman on a jobsite asking how to find work.
That foreman put him in touch with Whitaker Electric, an IBEW signatory contractor. Tsotsonis worked with company owner David Whitaker to gain permanent residency status and transferred his IBEW membership to Local 716 in 1980. He and Eva have lived in Houston ever since.
Looking back, Tsotsonis realizes he likely would not have been admitted to the United States if he had not completed his IBEW apprenticeship.
“Education is the key to everything,” he said.
Angelina, the Tsotsonis’ daughter, was born in 1982. Tim continued to drive a prized Corvette he purchased in Montreal. His wife owned a hair salon.
“I had everything I wanted,” he said.
Tragedy Turns into Triumph
|Houston Local 716 member Tim Tsotsonis is joined by his family before a charitable bike ride. Tsotsonis, 71, rides in long distance events to raise money for multiple sclerosis research and as a way of saying thanks for help in caring for his son Alexander, far left, who has cerebral palsy. Pictured to his right is his wife Eva and to his left is daughter Angelina.
That all changed in 1987, four months after Alexander was born in February, when he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. It’s caused by a brain injury or malformation and severely impacts an individual’s motor skills and ability to speak.
Alexander required constant care, so Tim stopped working as an electrician to stay home while Eva continued to manage the salon.
“My American dream collapsed,” he said. “It showed how life can change from second to second.”
Health insurance always was a concern, especially when companies could decline coverage because of a pre-existing condition, Tsotsonis said. He’s thankful for the help the family received along the way, especially from Shriners Hospital for Children, the Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor School of Medicine.
“I never lost my dignity,” he said. “I never lost my hope, I never gave up and I never felt like a loser. I never complained that it was the fault of other people. I was facing the reality and trying to find solutions.”
Alexander had some health scares along the way, but continued to improve and graduated from a public high school. The Tsotsonis family got some financial relief when he qualified for Medicaid in 2009, allowing it to hire a home health-care worker and ease some of the burden on Tim and his wife.
Tsotsonis never relinquished his Local 716 membership. After 22 years, he wanted to be an electrician again.
Finding Joy on Bike, On the Job
Tsotsonis works on high-rise buildings and enjoys mentoring younger electricians. He hopes he sets a good example with his enthusiasm on the job and shows them the importance of good relationships with management.
“I’m like an ambassador,” he said.
Easton said that enthusiasm is hard to miss.
“It’s been fascinating to be around him,” he said. “When you first look at him, you think this guy needs to retire and go enjoy himself. But he took so much time to care for his son, work is almost like a fun thing to do.”
Tsotsonis is especially thankful to Mid-West Electric, an IBEW signatory contractor, and owner Matthew Cappadonna, for giving him work on a variety of projects. He has become friends with Cappadonna, who contributes to his bicycling rides.
Those long rides have become common. Tsotsonis has taken part bike in a six-day, 537-mile trek between Houston and New Orleans that raises money for the American Red Cross. The ride from Houston to Austin, which benefits multiple sclerosis –a disease that is similar to cerebral palsy, but doesn’t impact those suffering from it until they are adults. Click here to contribute.
“When you ride at 8 or 9 in the morning on a beautiful sunny day, you feel like you’re close to paradise,” he added. “You’re self-energized. You feel the value of being alive. You don’t feel your age. When I ride with young people, I compete with them.”
There is one person who is never out of his mind, no matter if he’s riding or working. That’s Alexander.
“He made me a better person,” Tsotsonis said. “He made me think about my values in life, about love and possibilities, about the power of affection and giving back. For me, he’s the treasure of my life and inspiration.”