John N. Proakis, a veteran TV repairman who was a co-founder of Lane TV and was known to his customers as "The TV Man," died Friday at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center of congestive heart failure. He was 90.
The son of Greek immigrants from Chios, John Nicholas Proakis was born and raised in Weirton, W.Va. His father, Nick Proakis, was a steelworker, and his mother, Fotini Proakis, was a homemaker.
After graduating in 1942 from Weir High School, Mr. Proakis moved to Baltimore and went to work as an electrician at Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point shipyard.
In 1946, Mr. Proakis enlisted in the Navy, where he served aboard the destroyer USS William R. Rush for two years in the Atlantic before being discharged.
After leaving the Navy, he enrolled at the New York Technical Institute, from which he graduated in 1950.
He married the former Marion Zubulis, who died several years later, leaving him to raise his daughter.
With a keen interest in radio and television repair, he went to work in 1950 for Muntz TV in the 6200 block of Belair Road in Hamilton, where he became acquainted with Henry Lee Harris.
Later that year after Muntz TV folded, the two men, who became lifelong friends, established Lane TV Service Inc. on Sinclair Lane with a third partner, Paul Adler.
"Sinclair Lane. That's where the name came from," said Mr. Harris, who lives in Towson. "I was the inside man, and John was the runner who made house calls."
The business became so successful that the partners opened a second location at Loch Raven Road and Gorsuch Avenue in the mid-1950s. The company, which employed six workers, made repairs and house calls six days a week.
"We were probably the first TV repair service in Baltimore to hire African-American repairmen, and John always treated everyone fairly," said Mr. Harris. "He was always a fair and gentle man and never used profanity."
Their Ford Econoline vans and a Volkswagen truck carried a slogan promising "Fast, Efficient and Reasonably" priced service to those experiencing an out-of-whack television.
"John brought in a lot of customers from the Greek community and our service area was primarily East Baltimore, but we would also go to West Baltimore," said Mr. Harris. "I think we were well respected because we did everything honestly."
Customers bestowed two nicknames on Mr. Proakis, who graciously answered to "Mr. Lane" and "The TV Man."
"Even as the years passed, people who recognized him would recount when he serviced their television set," said Peter Constantinou, a son-in-law who lives in Cockeysville. "Although he may not have remembered their last name, he knew the television set and model, the repair work he did, and what room it was in."
At his Rosedale home, and much to the consternation of his children, Mr. Proakis repaired the family sets rather than buying new ones.
His daughter, Barbara Shearer, who lives in Grants Pass, Ore., recalled being upset with her father when he refused to purchase a color TV when they came out in the 1960s.
"I had to go to our upstairs bathroom window and look across the street into the neighbor's living room to see the colors shine from their new set," said Ms. Shearer.
Eventually, repairing TVs cost more than replacing them, said Mr. Harris.
"John had a heart valve replaced, and that limited his ability to work for a time," said Mr. Harris, who explained that he and Mr. Proakis agreed to shutter the business in 1988 and retire.
Even though the shop closed, customers still called at Mr. Proakis' Rosedale home, where he had lived for more than 40 years, to see if "Mr. Lane" could fix their television, radio or other appliances.
Mr. Proakis expanded his repertoire to include radios, watches, purses, lawn mowers, eight-track tape players and ice makers.
"In fact, the day before he passed away, he finished fixing the ice maker in his own refrigerator," said his son-in-law.
In August 1958, friends persuaded Helen "Honey" Sourlis to go on a blind date with Mr. Proakis. She balked at first, and then agreed to go to the local Moose Lodge for a social evening with Mr. Proakis, who showed her the finer points in playing slot machines, family members said.
Three months later they married.
"To this day, I have all of the letters he sent me while we were dating," said Mrs. Proakis. "Each had a twig of lavender in it. He was such a romantic."
Mr. Proakis enjoyed growing vegetables and gardenias. He also liked traveling and golfing.
"I remember one time when we were in New Orleans with all of its great restaurants and John had to find a Greek restaurant where he could go and eat," Mr. Harris said, with a laugh.
Mr. Proakis was a member of the Scottish Rite and the Boumi Temple.
He was a member of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, 24 W. Preston St., where services will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Proakis is survived by a son, Michael Proakis of Hamilton; another daughter, Christina Constantinou of Cockeysville; a sister, Alice Cianos of Baltimore; and a granddaughter.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun