Remembering John Thanos

Published 10:07 pm Friday, May 31, 2013

For more than 50 years, the Crystal Restaurant on West Washington Street was the place to go for downtown Suffolk’s movers and shakers and for those who just wanted to be in the know about happenings in the city.

For many of Suffolk’s businessmen, attorneys and officials, it was the place they’d go for good food and all the latest news. Many a deal was sealed over lunch there, and many of the discussions that resulted in the merger of Suffolk and Nansemond County took place across the restaurant’s tables.

For John P. Thanos, who joined the family business there upon his return to Suffolk from the European front after World War II, the Crystal’s visitors were more than just customers — they were neighbors, they were friends with whom he had played high school sports, they were friends with whom he played golf and they were people who shared a stake in the success of downtown Suffolk.

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Thanos’ favorite topic, though, was sports, and from all accounts there was hardly a person in Suffolk who knew more than he about Tidewater sports and the local athletes who became local legends and professional standouts. His knowledge spanned the years and the sports world from golf legend Clarence “Ace” Parker to professional football’s Michael Vick, and the restaurant became a popular stop for professional sports figures passing through Suffolk.

Friends and family say Thanos had a passion for golf and a drive to promote athletics in Suffolk. The combination made him a bit of a legend in his own right on the local links and helped solidify the city’s growing reputation as a golf destination.

“He had a personality and a warmness about him that was so genuine that I never in my life ever heard anybody say anything derogatory about John,” fellow downtown icon G.S. Hobbs said this week, remembering his friend, who died Tuesday at the age of 91. “A friend of mine said, ‘A guy like John Thanos ought to never die,’ and he was exactly right.”

Suffolk still has its share of icons, but the city’s landscape has surely suffered from the loss of John Thanos.