The Kalliopi Kontou-Filis and Kenneth P. Mathews Fund

Kontou

The Kalliopi Kontou-Filis and Kenneth P. Mathews Fund will support student study opportunities in Greece and Cyprus.

During the run on Greek banks on Friday, June 15 – the eve of national elections, when depositors acted in a panic over fears that Sunday’s results would lead to Greece’s exit from the Eurozone – U-M Medical School alumna, Kalliopi Kontou-Filis ’69, battled frantic crowds in her effort to send funds to U-M. Neither grudging bank personnel nor the bank’s closing at 3pm could deter her.

Kontou-Filis was determined to send euros that very day to establish an endowment in honor of her mentor, U-M Professor of Internal Medicine Kenneth P. Mathews.  But she did not intend her gift for the Medical School.  She wanted to send the money to the Modern Greek Program.

The story began a few weeks earlier, when Kontou-Filis, M.D., Ph.D., eminent allergy specialist and the president of the Hellenic Society of Allergology and Clinical Immunology, looked around at the worn faces of her fellow citizens and decided she had to do something for Hellenism.  For years she had been attending to immunological systems gone awry.  She was accustomed to offering Greek patients her expertise to treat complex physical reactions. Now she wanted to do something to benefit their crushed spirits.

Kontou-Filis felt indebted to U-M for her education in medicine.  In particular, her training as Fellow in Allergy Studies under Dr. Mathews, Professor of Internal Medicine and Division Chief of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, had prepared her for a successful career.  Could she find a way to support her country at a critical time of need and to give back to the University that trained her?  

Through an internet search, Kontou-Filis discovered the U-M Modern Greek Program.  That was when she sent an inquiry to Professor Vassilis Lambropoulos, asking if she might make a one-time gift. Imagine his surprise when he received this unexpected message: “The University of Michigan gave me my education in Medicine, and I want to give something back, to U-M’s Modern Greek Program”! Imagine her surprise when she received his immediate response, “With the amount of money you wish to donate, you can endow a gift to benefit U-M
students – and Greek studies – in perpetuity”!

And so the scene unfolded as Dr. Kontou-Filis felt the uncertainty of Greece’s economic future pressing upon her.  Once an agreement was reached and papers outlining the terms of agreement for her new endowment fund were drawn up, she ran to the bank.  That was at noon on Friday, June 15.  She waited patiently in the long lines of anxious depositors wishing to withdraw money.  At the end of a crazy day, tellers puzzled over her intentions, running back and forth to consult one another.  “I told them, ‘Once you conclude my transaction, THEN I’ll start worrying about the Greek economy.’”  Finally they informed her they had completed the transaction. “After three hours and 45 minutes … all was completed while we are still in the Euro Zone,” she wrote in an email after she returned home.

On Monday, June 18, U-M recorded the establishment of the new Kalliopi Kontou-Filis and Kenneth P. Mathews Endowment Fund, honoring the memory of Kenneth P. Mathews, Professor of Medicine, U-M,  and the donor’s mentor, to support student opportunities for study in Greece and Cyprus.  The Endowment will inspire more students to enhance their studies with trips to these two countries, enabling them to take more time for Greek language acquisition in an immersion setting, broaden their experiential learning, and to be more adventurous in their efforts to conduct research.  It will greatly enrich the culture of learning in the Modern Greek Program.