Saying Goodbye: George Coupounas passes away at age 77
George Coupounas, a fixture at GoLite, one of its co-founders and the father of one of GoLites' other co-founders Demetri “Coup” Coupounas passed away from pancreatic cancer July 5 at Massachusetts General Hospital with the love of his life, his wife of over 40 years, Lyn Konugres Coupounas, by his side. He was 77 years old.
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George Coupounas, a fixture at GoLite, one of its co-founders and the father of one of GoLites’ other co-founders Demetri “Coup” Coupounas passed away from pancreatic cancer July 5 at Massachusetts General Hospital with the love of his life, his wife of over 40 years, Lyn Konugres Coupounas, by his side. He was 77 years old.
He spent a quiet 4th of July evening, SNEWS® was told by his daughter-in-law, Kim Coupounas, observing the fireworks and Independence Day festivities reflected off the buildings of downtown Boston with his Lyn and Coup at his side.
SNEWS® and many industry friends, will doubtless remember George’s infectious enthusiasm, broad smile, silly sense of humor, and generous, thoughtful personality. He literally lit up the GoLite booth with his presence, welcoming all with his warmth.
His daughter-in-law and GoLite’s third co-founder Kim remembered George in an email to SNEWS® as the “caring GoLite co-founder, counsel, and investor who dedicated countless hours to helping grow our company to where it is today. His loss to GoLite is incalculable, and it is impossible to measure how much he will be missed. For my part, George’s kindness, caring, love, wise counsel, and generosity were more than any daughter could ask for.
In keeping with George’s wicked sense of humor, Kim also wrote, “In lieu of flowers, George would want you all to buy lots of GoLite gear. Ok, even though that’s true, what I meant to write was, in lieu of flowers, donations in honor of his life may be made to: The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral of New England, Endowment Fund, 514 Ruggles Street, Boston, MA 02120, or to Harvard Medical School, Department of Microbiology, 401 Park Drive, Boston, MA 02116.”
Always smiles amid tears.
As we ourselves searched for the appropriate words to say, we realized that there simply was no better way to share with you what an amazing man George was than in Coup’s own words:
George Coupounas lived a long, full life, and we choose to celebrate his spirit and his impact rather than regret his inevitable passing. As Jim Morrison said, “No one here gets out alive.”George was an eccentric in many ways; perhaps none more than in his frugality. Born Aug. 14, 1929, to parents who had both emigrated from Greece, he grew up in modest circumstances in Scotia, New York. The Great Depression started when George was 76 days old, and its effects touched every facet of his early life. He learned the value of hard work and took to heart Franklin’s wise aphorism that “a penny saved is a penny earned.”When not in school or studying, he was most often stocking, selling and settling accounts at his parents’ fledgling grocery store. While he got out with the local Boy Scout troop and with friends on occasion, his most typical physical activity was biking back and forth to the store. Unlike so many at GoLite, this mode of transportation for George wasn’t really a lifestyle choice.George went to Syracuse University, and in his four years earned not only a bachelor’s, but also a master’s degree in business administration. Soon after, he earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School, which wasn’t too shabby for the first in his family to even go to college. At Harvard, George took the unofficial motto of the law school, “Learn, Earn & Serve” as his own. The finishing touches on his intensive learning period now over, it was time to earn.George took to the details of one of the dreariest parts of the law, tax, like a fish to water. Becoming a Certified Public Accountant, he dedicated the next 50 years of his career to optimizing personal and company financial and strategic plans. Earning wasn’t much of a problem.In Boston, in the early ‘60s, he met Lyn Konugres and they fell in love and got married. She was the world’s first PhD in immunohematology and the discoverer of 2 blood types. Earning wasn’t much of a problem for her either. But spending was – for both of them.While all of their friends and neighbors seemed to live pretty high-off-the-hog in the booming ‘60s, they just didn’t. They bought a nice house in a nice neighborhood, but that was it. Neither of them saw the point in conspicuous consumption or wasting money, no matter how much or how little one had.George had a private law practice that he ran out of his home. One assistant, a phone, a typewriter, some office furniture and supplies amounted to all of his expenses. And there were a lot of uncommon benefits – no commuting cost, all that time saved, cheap and plentiful food in the family fridge, no spending on baby sitting or wondering what his kid was up to (since my bedroom door was 12 inches from his office).When a staple he favored was on sale, he’d buy enough for years and put it in a store room downstairs. Strict was the first-in-first-out stock rotation in that room, by the way, which you messed with at your peril.Every decade or so he’d buy a used car cheap, and then run it into the ground for many years to come. Of course he changed the oil himself, not just to save money; he thought he did a better job. He knew the price of gas everywhere in town every day of the week and bought accordingly. One day all the internal door knobs on our family’s house were removed with the intent of an upgrade, but then, since the price had gone up on the intended replacements, they were never replaced. For 30 years, no door knobs. Visitors wondered if we were doing ok. “Fine, fine, and you?” urns out knobs are a “want” and not a “need” anyway – it’s the door itself, plus the hinges, that really do all the work. Before anything was recycled outside the home, concerted attempts were first made to reuse or repurpose it. Newspapers sopped up oil drips from changes, cardboard fruit boxes were filled with business files, and all manner of plastic containers from Mom’s work were passed off as presents for child and friends. (It wasn’t until my teens I realized I’d been ripped off, and by then I didn’t care.)While George and Lyn enjoyed the occasional night out as much as the next couple, they were also happy around home. One night it dawned on them that if they put their skills and knowledge together they could probably have another thriving business going. They bought a lot of plastic bags, a heat sealer and 6 extra refrigerators and started a serum business. My friends and I of course thought this enterprise odd. When I asked what the 6 fridges filled with blood were for, they just told me that they paid for the seventh fridge full of food, and I called it good.On occasion they’d spend, but only for things they considered really important where supreme functionality and top quality were a must. A large television just in time to watch the moon landings for instance, and a Steinway grand piano for the 7-year-old who showed an interest and promise in music, and, at 10, a 6-foot-by-3foot executive desk so the now-10-year-old – me — would think big. And they also gave generously to family and friends in true need. These were rare exceptions though.Since some coin was rolling in and they spent like misers, what to do with the excess? Invest.George had lots of ideas from his clients, from his friends, and from Lyn. Just as important as the ideas was his discipline in checking them out thoroughly and discussing them with people who could steer him clear of pitfalls. He was slow to invest, but once invested, even slower to get out.Actually, he almost never got out. He would buy and hold, and hold, and hold, and never sell. My mom and I used to joke that he was just like the squirrels on our property burying nuts all over the yard all spring, summer and fall. So he had lots of small investments in lots of good ideas, a few of which didn’t work out, but many of which grew like weeds.And still he saved. He valued his independence, his security, and his freedom above possessions. He never wanted a second house on the Cape or a boat in the harbor. He just wanted to be able to live his life as he chose to. In this, he came to exemplify “going lite” as a lifestyle.But there’s got to be more to life than preparing tax returns by day and sealing serum bags by night, right? You bet there is. There’s travel and adventure.George’s first big dose came driving across the country and back with a college buddy right after Syracuse. They got in an old beat up Lincoln and set out to discover America. And like all who do, they were blown away by the vastness and beauty of our land. The Gulf Coast, the Iowa wheat and Kansas corn fields, the Grand Canyon, Vegas, LA, the Sierra Nevada, Yosemite, San Francisco Bay, the Olympic Peninsula, Yellowstone, Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, the Chicago waterfront, Detroit’s automotive plants, Pittsburgh’s steel mills. The experience fired a life-long passion for exploration.The second dose came on George’s honeymoon. He was 34 and Lyn was 40 so they were established enough in their careers to take some time and do it right. They went to Europe for three months. Cruised the Mediterranean, explored the art and history of dozens of ancient and modern capitals, visited their ancestral villages, and had a real good time.The travel bug never really left George, though it would lie dormant for years at a time. He never seemed interested in short trips. A weekend at the shore or a week in Florida didn’t do it for him. But every five to 10 years the urge would dominate all else, and nothing would do but to go on an extended road trip.He didn’t sleep much. Neither did I. We both liked to drive. Like most in school, I could only be available for an occasional summer, so the direction of travel was obvious — north!Five separate summers in the ‘80s and ‘90s we took from several weeks to several months and explored everything we could get to in the northern US and Canada. We road the first ice breaker of the season to Labrador, took a train to Moosenee, canoed on James Bay, scanned the Northern Atlantic from St. Johns, raced the tide up the cliff walks at the Bay of Fundy, picnicked by icebergs in St. Anthony, had pizza in Whitehorse, drag-raced locals on the streets of Calgary, met the seven inhabitants of Hyder, and ate salmon and halibut just out of the water in Homer and Seward.George always wanted to see how locals lived and where they worked. We’d frequent night shifts since management’s guard was down and we’d get shown what was really going on. We got spontaneous VIP-style tours at the largest pulp and paper mill in Timmons, Ontario, where diamond-tipped saws cut the wood that would eventually become the New York Times. We spent nights with crews on oil and gas rigs in North Dakota and at the Valdez terminal of the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline. And we toured fisheries galore because when they liked you, the samples couldn’t be beat.At times, George was shockingly bold for a man with responsibilities. He wanted to drive the Alaska pipeline access road, and discovering that it was illegal back then, we went up it at night with our lights off.As much as he liked to drive, George understood that the only way to really see a place was on foot and so we went on many hikes. Some of them were very long in hours, none of them were very long in miles, but we always saw a lot because George was insatiably curious about his surroundings. In fact my nickname for him was “Curious George.”We explored the shores of Beaver Island, the trails off Olympic’s Hurricane Ridge, traversed Glacier tips and moraines in Montana and Rangell-St. Elias National Park and hiked through a valley filled with over 2 billion year old exposed rock. And we shared some magnificent camp sites from the porches of abandoned mining cabins, to the soft duff carpet of Redwood forests to an outcrop in Gross Morne.Not all of it was idyllic. We swerved around our share of moose, froze our butts off at the tip of Cape Gaspe, fed thousands of mosquitoes on the east bank of Lake Superior, and ran out of gas on an abandoned logging road in Yukon grizzly country (guess who walked for gas…). But the hardest of the hardships gave us the richest of memories, and a very special bond.Many elements came together for one last great trip in 1997. Kim and I were climbing Denali. My parents had always wanted to take a second boat trip and George had his heart set on an educational cruise up the Inside Passage to Alaska. But he just couldn’t bring himself to shell out the dough. Then all the planets aligned in ’97, too many cruise ships chasing too few customers on the Inside Passage and all were advertising 2-for-the-price-of-1. Now they couldn’t afford not to go! Two days after Kim and I stood on the summit of North America fueled by freeze-dried corn and peas, we were getting a tour of the ship that my parents had called home the past few weeks and gorged on a free buffet of crab legs and who-cares-what-else. George was giddy from the adventure and the thrice daily lectures had pumped him so full he sounded like a narrator on a Discovery Channel show. Then we enjoyed one precious week in the interior all together including a bush plane flight up the Kahiltna glacier and around Denali’s summit.A year later, Kim, George and I started GoLite together.Service comes in many forms. Most people think of service as community service, work in non-profits, or in the military or other parts of our government. But service can, and often does take place in private-sector for-profit businesses. Some find their highest calling starting and/or funding new ventures. I think of my father that way.All of George’s decades of “Going Lite” in his personal life now allowed him to help fund the early growth of a company that embodied the lifestyle he’d lived, taken to its logical conclusion and applied to wilderness travel. After being a small investor in so many large public companies for so many years, in GoLite he finally got to be a big fish in a small pond. With us, he didn’t go to a stock holders’ meeting annually to complain about something he found in the footnotes of a financial report; with us he picked up the phone daily and asked the CEO and the president what they thought of an idea that had just occurred to him that might have some promise.When I let George invest in our new venture, it was mostly to give him something special to participate in professionally, to cap his career, and so we could talk about things that I found more interesting than why cucumbers were cheaper at DeMoulas’ Grocery but carrots were less at Roche Brothers. And so I’d never have to fill out a tax return. I didn’t fully appreciate what a savvy strategist and insightful business adviser he was. Just about everything George had to say from day one turned out to be spot-on. George loved being a part of GoLite. His pride in what we were doing and how we were doing it radiated to all he talked to. He enjoyed coming to trade shows and making friends throughout every part of our industry. He liked walking the floor with dealers and potential dealers, and talking to staff to get the real scoop on what was going on out there. He wore GoLite apparel everywhere he went and handed out his ultra-light business cards like candy, especially at annual stock holders’ meetings at big public companies, and all of his contacts would get excited and want to invest in GoLite and he’d smile and let them know that GoLite didn’t need any more investors, but had openings for a few more customers.My first 30 years I came to know that George was the quintessential patient, long-term investor. But it is only in the past 10 that I have really appreciated what that meant. It meant that he invested in people he respected and ideas that he believed in, and he stuck with them through thick and through thin. He didn’t get cold feet when sales projections were missed. He didn’t worry when important early orders were cancelled in the wake of 9/11. He didn’t ring his hands when several employees had to be replaced. He didn’t panic when winter never came and insulated parkas were piled to the rafters in the warehouse. And he didn’t pull the plug when quarterly results weren’t so great and friends tipped him off about better returns elsewhere. No. He believed in GoLite and our mission, and he was committed to it and would see it through no matter what sacrifices it took or for how long they would have to be made.America was built by people like George – hard-working, decent, caring, loving, committed people who contribute and serve in all sorts of ways. And every great company has a person or two like George in its early history. For our part, without George, GoLite simply wouldn’t exist.
I honor him, and thank him from the bottom of my heart as a son, as a friend, and as a partner. And I wish him the eternal happiness he so richly deserves.