In the last week of August, 2001, Katherine Bantis reached into her suitcase at her parents’ home in Kozani, Greece. She took out an envelope filled with American dollars, put the envelope into her father’s hand, and said, “Give this to the parish priest so he can buy the poor children gifts at Christmas.” With that gesture of kindness, Katherine Bantis flew back to America. And to eternity.
Two weeks later, Katherine Bantis was among the 2,819 who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11. On this September 11th, we once again reflect on the meaning of that day. Much has been written about the heroes who ran into those buildings and little has been written about the heroes who worked in the buildings.
The hagiography of the World Trade Center employees has yet to be written, and Katherine Bantis is a good place to start.
Katherine Bantis, a Manchester resident and graduate of Central High School, was born in Kozani, Greece and immigrated to the United States at the age of 12. A product of the Manchester school system, she graduated from Central High School and went on to earn a degree in accounting from Plymouth State College. She graduated with honors.
She took a position in a law firm, and in 1986 Katherine was hired as an accountant with a New York insurance firm. As her career developed, she took on more responsibility and was promoted several times. She eventually relocated to Seattle and then Chicago. The accounting firm, Marsh and McLennan, purchased the New York firm Johnson and Higgins, where she was working. They in turn promoted Katherine to senior vice president in Chicago, where she oversaw finance operations in eight states.
On September 11th, she was attending a meeting at the World Trade Center.
In every sense of the term, she was an immigrant success story par excellence. She went from the valleys of Macedonia to the concrete canyons of Manhattan. Katherine was not content with being a senior vice president at a major New York firm. Kathy returned to Greece every summer, and with the aid of her father she quietly funded a school for the disabled in her hometown of Kozani. It opened in the 1990s and still operates today. (Its website is: http://www.kivotos-amea.gr.)
We owe much to Kathy. She was the product of the Greek culture that gave us philosophy, a pillar of Western civilization. Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote a book titled “Nicomachean Ethics,” in which he goes into detail about morality, character and virtue. He defines virtue as: “excellence of character.” Aristotle went on to write that when one has mastered all virtues: prudence; justice; moderation etc., one possessed greatness of soul. Kathy Bantis possessed greatness of soul. Western civilization is the heir to Aristotle’s greatness of soul. Virtue is the backbone of American exceptionalism.
We do not honor Katherine for being a senior vice president. She was born into poverty and spoke no English. She embraced American culture. She succeeded the old-fashioned way: She worked. However, American culture is not defined by our work ethic, but by our moral character. Katherine was well aware of her successes, made light of them and gave back. That is why we want to honor her.
Let me be very clear. The War on Terror will not be won in the war room, but in the classroom. Only by the free exchange of ideas in the public square can we defeat terrorism. That is why a scholarship in Kathy Bantis’ memory is so important. The quiet humility of Katherine Bantis is the best way we will ensure the success of liberty. We must play to our strength.
I am not asking you to mourn her death. I am asking you to imitate her life, and give back. By living the life of charity as Katherine Bantis selflessly did, we can be assured that terrorism will be defeated.
If you would like to donate to the Katherine Bantis Scholarship Fund, you can send a check to the fund, c/o Central High School, 207 Lowell Street, Manchester, N.H. 03104. The fund’s website is www.bantis-scholarships.org.
Paul DiIulio, a Manchester resident and classmate of Katherine Bantis, manages the Katherine Bantis Scholarship Fund.