Former Harvard professor Dennis N. Skiotis, the director of undergraduate studies in the history department for more than 10 years, died of complications from pneumonia on Oct. 19 at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He was 67.
Skiotis was a popular teacher at Harvard who was known for his lectures on military history, said friend John T. Trumpbour, the research director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School.
Skiotis, who was also the associate director of Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies from 1976 to 1985, received the Dean’s Letter of Commendation for Excellence in Teaching numerous times and regularly appeared on CNN, BBC, PBS and NPR to comment on military affairs.
“So many people knew him,” said Trumpbour. “He had such a wide range of friends from the far left to the far right. He could talk to anybody.”
Born in Tianjin, China, Skiotis was educated in Greece and in the United States before taking up his post at Harvard, and then eventually returned to Greece to serve as president of Athens College from 1999 to 2003.
He had just taken on the job of dean of the American College of Greece and as the director of its Institute of Diplomacy and Global Affairs in 2004, when he contracted leukemia.
As a young student at the Marist Brothers’ School in China, Skiotis learned both English and Chinese and gained an interest in soccer. U.S. military servicemen who met the bilingual nine year old were impressed enough to give him a uniform—a gift that may have sparked a life-long interest in military affairs, according to Trumpbour.
During the 1940s, in the midst of the China’s social turmoil and revolution, the Skiotis family returned to Greece. Despite his impoverished background, Skiotis’ mother “infused him with his educational drive,” said Trumpbour.
Skiotis attended Athens College on a scholarship, and then made his way to the United States as a Rotary Fellow at Bates College in Maine.
In 1958, Skiotis, who became the captain of the school’s soccer team, received his bachelor’s degree in English from Bates. He then continued his education at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, where he received a master’s degree in international relations in 1963.
Skiotis served as assistant professor of history at Harvard during the 1970s while pursuing a doctorate in history and Middle Eastern studies, which he obtained in 1971.
In 1974, Skiotis was appointed by the U.S. Senate as the head of mission to Cyprus. Skiotis played an important role in keeping relations open between the United States and Greece, said Trumpbour.
On Sunday, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said in a statement, “[A]ll of us in Congress who knew him and worked with him over the years had immense respect for his vast learning and wisdom on issues in the Middle East.”
Skiotis provided valuable help to the Senate Subcommittee on Refugees when conflict erupted between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus, wrote Kennedy.
“In a sense, we were all his students. We have lost a wonderful teacher, and we will miss him very much,” Kennedy wrote.
Skiotis leaves behind his wife Mary and two daughters, Litsa and Anna Marie.
The memorial service, held on Oct. 23 at the Taxiarchae Greek Orthodox Church in Watertown, Mass., was filled with friends and family, said Trumpbour.
“He really cared about me and a lot of people deeply. It was really important that I had such a steady and loyal friend,” Trumpbour said.