Nancy Horton: Sailing for a Century and Still Under Steam!

Introduction and Speech
by Andrew Leech


Nancy Horton's 100th Centenary at the Boite Prive, Glyfada, Greece

The 100th birthday anniversary of my aunt, Nancy Horton, daughter of George Horton (former US consul General of Smyrna in 1922 and author of 'the Blight of Asia' and other books concerning Greece).

Horton is recognised as one of the two outstanding heroes (the other is Asa Jennings) of what has come to be known as the Great Catastrophe of Smyrna. A man who is credited with saving hundreds of lives for which he was decorated with the Order of St Xavier by the Greek Government (the highest Greek civilian decoration) and then made a Knight of St Gregory by the Vatican.

Nancy Horton, as a little girl of 10, was evacuated from Smyrna, together with her parents, when their home (and the US Consulate) was burnt down around them on the orders of Turkish officers incensed at Horton's protection of citizens by (1) registering them as under US Protection and (2) putting them in small boats he also placed the US flag on, thus allowing them to sail to safety (a similar technique to that later used by Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest in 1944, to save many of the Jewish population).

The guests are friends, family (Steve & Ann Marie Pitkin, Andrew, Jennifer & Alexander Leech), representatives of: Greek and US Governments, the various Smyrna Societies, the Greek Orthodox Church and other philanthropic groups based in Athens.

We thank the thousands of people, from all over the world, who have sent messages and greetings for this happy occasion.

Andrew Leech


Four months after the Titanic set sail on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, a little baby – Nancy Horton – was born to her proud parents Catherine Sakopoulou and George Horton.

Unlike the Titanic, however, Nancy is still with us, sailing safely - though perhaps a little slower - through the fast turbulent waters of the Third Millennium, with all her navigational systems intact and operational.

It is also worth mentioning, today, at the start of the 30th Olympiad, that her father, George Horton, was one of the people who worked tirelessly to get the first modern Olympic Games started in Athens in 1896; while Nancy, herself, was born at the end of the 5th Olympiad in Stockholm. In short, she has lived through 25 modern Olympic Games and last night, on television, saw the start of her 26th Series in London.

In many respects Nancy is a walking, living encyclopaedia. From knowing and talking to her for many of the chatting moments I’ve had in the 64 years of my life to date, she has often surprised me with memories I would never have otherwise known. One memory Nancy graphically portrayed for me, many years ago, was when she was 7 years old, in Smyrna, and used to talk to a convicted murderer, through his cell window, for several days before his execution. She was always surprised that the man seemed to be such a gentle person who knew how to talk and hold the interest of a little girl. And this description has always stayed in my mind.

When I was a child, in the early 1950s, when Nancy lived in London, at Oakley St, Chelsea, I remember her taking me to the South Bank Festival; and there she showed she really knew how to interest a little boy. She was my most wonderful aunt, then, who always conjured up hordes of fascinating images for me to dream on. And even today, I love to pick her memories and go over them with her, whenever I get down to Voula to visit her.

Nancy, it’s been an interesting century and you’ve probably seen much more of life and modern history than anyone else present here tonight. You must add to it. You have always had an extreme passion and zest for life and this quality has probably helped make you into the interesting character you are.

Do you remember dancing rock and roll at your 90th birthday in Voula? You amazed me; not only because you did it, but because you did it so well!

If it had been anyone else’s birthday party I would probably have used the Greek expression “Na ta ekatostiseis.” However, in your case you would probably reply: “I’ve done that already! What else can you suggest?”

Unlike her father, Nancy has never been a political firebrand. But, like him, she always cared about others and Nancy will always be remembered for three important things. First, how she has constantly fought to keep the memory of the Catastrophe of Smyrna in the public mind and not allowed it to fade into oblivion or be altered by the words of others who sought to justify it for personal or political ends. The second is the love and attention she has lavished on her father’s books and his memory. And the third: the unfailing love and protection she has always shown for Athens stray dogs, even turning her house into a sanctuary for them.

Nancy has always been a loving, warm personality who used her gifts for the good of others (two or four footed) and rarely for herself. In short, she has proved herself a real human being!

So, Nancy, all I can wish you is to carry on as you are now, with your faculties intact and your thirst for knowledge and good humour unabated. Keep sailing, Nancy, and chug on safely, visiting and re-visiting all the ports that have fond memories for you.

Happy Birthday, may you have many more of them.

I would also like to take this opportunity of thanking the thousands of people, from all over the world, who have sent messages and greetings on this happy occasion. And, in conclusion, I would like to thank Gigi, Nancy’s stalwart companion, who has spent so much time, for so many years, looking after her in such a caring way. Thank you Gigi.

Andrew Leech,
Athens 28th July 2012

Photo Gallery
(images submitted by Andrew Leech)

Learn more about George Horton--

Two of his works have been reprinted: The Blight of Asia and The Greeks of Today 1907. See also more information under the Smyrna (and Asia Minor) section of the HCS archives and also articles written by Stavrides and Leech in the archives.

(Posting date 04 November 2012)

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