Elizabeth Athanasakos, women’s rights activist, has died

Even the presidents knew his name.

Elizabeth “Betty” Athanasakos was a lawyer, judge, women’s rights activist, and Republican insider who unsuccessfully ran for office after being branded a liberal.

Her family and friends said she died at her home in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday. She was about a week away from her 95th birthday. Her family said she was still practicing law until her brain tumor diagnosis in May.

In June 1970, Judge Athanasakos, then a member of President Richard Nixon’s Task Force on Women’s Rights and Responsibilities, issued a public call to the Republican Women’s Club of Broward County to act, now , writing to their members of Congress to pass equal rights legislation.

In Broward alone, there were 12,000 more women than men registered to vote, she told them.

Women were the only group that could be legally discriminated against, she told her supporters. Equal rights and opportunities are “just a matter of justice,” she told the lunch crowd, as reported by the Miami Herald. “We women don’t have a priority because we’ve been silent.”

Athanasakos never stopped his life’s mission. Positions on other boards appointed by Presidents Ford and Carter followed.

“In addition to her law practice, Elizabeth Athanasakos tackles women’s issues from coast to coast,” the Fort Lauderdale News reported in August 1976.

Athanasakos had been Marilyn Bonilla Krantz’s friend and mentor since her graduation in 1990. “I came into the office and never left. She was my mentor and like a mother to me,” she said. Athanasakos organized and encouraged campaign supervisor Jane Carroll and constantly urged other women to seek higher positions, Krantz said.

“She was always very, very supportive,” she said. “She was just a very caring person who was humble, gracious, bright-minded, a good, good person who had a vision of what the world could be like if there was justice and equal rights for women. “

Born in New York to Greek immigrants, Athanasakos grew up in Brooklyn and graduated from St. John’s University Law School. She became a civil attorney in Florida in 1958. She served as a municipal judge in the cities of Wilton Manors from 1964 to 1972 and Oakland Park from 1968 to 1972 and also served as attorney for the Broward County Supervisor of Elections and associate attorney for Port Everglades.

She ran for the Florida State Senate in 1974 as a Republican candidate and was narrowly defeated in a runoff. During the campaign, Athanasakos was attacked as a liberal.

According to a 1974 Fort Lauderdale News article, Athanasakos filed an ethics complaint against two senators for using their senate stationery to write a letter calling her a “tool of the liberal forces of the East.” “.

She was also president of what was one of the largest business and professional women’s organizations in the country, the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs.

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She said at the time that her efforts were necessary because real change will only be possible when women join forces, speak out as a unified group and secure more positions in government.

“We’re going backwards,” she told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in 1991. “I think we’re in a time where, if women don’t speak up, we’re going to lose a lot more.”

Liz Hyland, Athanasakos’ niece, who lives at Wilton Manors, said letters from Presidents Ford and Nixon thanking her aunt for her role as a judge and her work for women’s rights were among her most prized possessions.

“She was a strong, independent, powerful woman,” Hyland said. “He’s my hero.”

Krantz said Athanasakos was saddened that the Equal Rights Amendment never passed, not even until today. “It was something she was very disappointed in, but she never gave up hope,” she said.

Athanasakos is survived by siblings, nieces and nephews. Visitation is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday at Baird-Case Jordan-Fannin Funeral Home, 4343 N. Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale. The funeral will be held Monday at 10:30 a.m. at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, 820 NE 14th Ave. in Fort Lauderdale.

Lisa J. Huriash can be reached at [email protected] or 954-572-2008. Follow on Twitter @LisaHuriash