Serafim “Sammy” C. Canavos
Serafim “Sammy” C. Canavos passed away on August 13, 2023, at 92, surrounded by three generations of family. He was born on September 21, 1930, to the late Christos and Alexandra Canavos, and those who knew him knew he took immense pride in being born in “Downtown Newport News. He is survived by his loving wife of 61 years, Angeliki “Kiki” Canavos, and his children Chris Canavos (Tena), Dean Canavos (Stacey), and Alexis Galoozis (Theofilos), his younger brother Dr. George Canavos (Athena) and his many nieces and nephews. Sammy was preceded in death by his older brother Father Dennis Canavos (Marika).
Sammy was the proud grandfather of seven grandchildren: Serafim “Samson” Canavos (Mariam), Allie Galoozis Lumpkin (Frank), Sydney Galoozis, Andrew Canavos, Ayden Canavos, Mary Katherine Galoozis and Serafim (Sam) Canavos, who were the true “sparkles of his eye,” and his great-grandchildren Anastasia Canavos and Alessia Lumpkin. On any given day, Sammy spent time with his grandchildren watching kid’s shows, eating popcorn, and sharing words of wisdom.
While Sammy was proud of his Greek heritage, he never missed an opportunity to remind others that he was “born in Newport News.” He was, first and foremost, an American citizen. Sammy returned to Greece with his mother and brother Dennis at age three to care for his elderly grandmother. Unfortunately, hostilities erupted shortly after that in Europe, and the family experienced the horrors of WWII. Thankfully, Sammy persevered and returned home at age 16 to Newport News on a “troop ship” sent to bring home US citizens with his brother Dennis. Sammy often shared that one of his most vivid memories of returning from Greece was feeling “finally safe home” in America when Lady Liberty appeared in New York Harbor.
Upon returning from Greece, Sammy joined his father at the family restaurant, Washington Lunch. Within a few years, he bought his first restaurant, Louis’ on 25th Street and Washington Ave. It was later renamed the “Downtown Steak House” and became the birthplace of the locally famous “Greek Burger Boat” with a mountain of his signature French fries. He went on to open either individually or in partnership with his brothers-in-law Nick and Angelo eight restaurants across the Peninsula, most notably Sammy’s Steakhouse (“The Sportsman’s) in Newport News, Sammy and Nick’s in Hampton and Capitol Pancake House in Williamsburg. True to Sammy’s belief that every day brings opportunities, he branched out into the hotel business in 1985 with the Howard Johnsons Hotel construction in Williamsburg. Regardless of the location, Sammy’s strong belief in the importance of personal service and his natural outgoing and warm personality made every customer feel special – often called out by name and always greeted with a smile and “How Do You Do!”
Sammy’s strong influence can also be felt across the area as he provided opportunities to numerous relatives and friends emigrating to the area from Greece, which they eventually leveraged to open restaurants of their own.
Despite Sammy’s success in business, his “true calling” was service. He carried with him a deep understanding that “when the sun rises in the morning, it brings new opportunities,” which drove his unwavering commitment to family and making his community a better place. He was
particularly passionate about education, and although he never had the opportunity to finish formal education, he felt strongly that his brother George, children, and grandchildren earned a college degree.
Sammy volunteered his time to many state and local organizations, served on community and business Boards of Directors, and participated in countless community outreach efforts. Some of these organizations included the Peninsula Boys & Girls Clubs, the Virginia Restaurant Association, NationsBank Advisory Board, and the National Conference for Community and Justice. While serving as the President of the Virginia Restaurant Association in Richmond, he spearheaded legislation to provide educational opportunities for current and future restaurant industry members to have better opportunities.
Of all the organizations that Sammy was involved with, his pride and joy were being the “Founder” of the incredibly successful annual Peninsula Boys & Girls Clubs Steak & Burger Fundraiser, which celebrated its 34th Steak Burger Dinner this year. This event has raised millions and has become a model for Clubs nationwide. He felt humbled and honored to mentor young people and to provide himself as an example of the opportunities this country has to offer. From its inception, Sammy wanted the clubs’ youth to feel special on the night of the Steak Burger Dinner and insisted the “Kids” be served the Steaks and the donors be served the Burgers.
Sammy held a deep faith and was an active and faithful member of Saints Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Newport News. He served several terms on the Parish Council and as Chair to the ever-popular annual Greek Festival. Sammy was a proud brother in the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) promotes the ancient Hellenic ideals of education, philanthropy, family, and excellence through community service. He was also devoted to his Monitor & Bremond Masonic Lodges brothers. Sammy was a devout Mason and believed the basic codes of being a Mason to his core, such as “Love your neighbor as yourself and do good out of love of goodness itself.”
As a result of the selfless offering of his “time, talent, and treasure,” Sammy was honored by the Peninsula Boys Girls Clubs with a place on their “Wall of Fame” and a Lifetime Achievement Award; A Joint House Resolution in 2013 by the Virginia General Assembly for his commitment to the youth of Newport News; a Proclamation by the Newport News City Council honoring his contributions to the community; and was awarded the 1999 Humanitarian Award by the NCCJ.
Most importantly, Sammy always felt blessed to have been born in the United States of America. He witnessed the horrors of war and the hardships of living outside the borders of this great country. As he often said, “We might not be perfect, but we are the best thing this world has to offer anyone. The opportunities are right here – just reach out and grab them!”
The family will have a visitation Wednesday, August 16, 2023, at 5:30 p.m., followed by a Trisagion Service at 6:30 p.m. at Saints Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Newport News. A funeral service will be held at Saints Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church on Thursday, August 17, 2023, at 11:00 a.m., followed by a burial at Peninsula Memorial Park.
In lieu of flowers, consider making a memorial contribution to Saints Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Newport News and/or Peninsula Boys & Girls Club.
Arrangements are under the care of Peninsula Funeral Home, 11144 Warwick Blvd. Newport News, VA 23601.