Nicholas Gialamas, a retired structural-steel painter who caught on as a regular on WJZ-TV's Manic Monday , died May 15 at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care in Towson of complications from an illness. The Kingsville resident was 74.
Mr. Gialamas worked on ships, bridges and other structures all over the country, including most of the bridges on the Baltimore Beltway and the Harbor Tunnel. Family said he would often proudly point out his work.
"Anywhere we went, he would say, 'You know, I painted this bridge,' " said his grandson Zachary Papas of Dallas.
Mr. Gialamas' claim to fame later in life was his frequent appearances on Manic Monday. They weren't formal segments, but WJZ reporter Ron Matz said Mr. Gialamas' fractured English, exotic plants and Greek cookies made him an endearing character whom audiences looked forward to seeing.
"We put him on the air, and everybody loved him," Mr. Matz said. "There was this great charm about him, and we got a great reaction. Everybody would ask, 'Who is this guy? Where is he from?' "
Mr. Matz said Mr. Gialamas was part of a regular group that would go to Jimmy's restaurant in Fells Point after the show, and family members said he was often recognized around town.
Mr. Matz described him as "a great Baltimore character."
"He brought a lot of laughter into people's lives, and I really, really miss him," Mr. Matz said.
Fig trees were Mr. Gialamas' signature, though it almost didn't work out that way. He tried for years grow a fig tree until he and a friend were finally successful. The friend died months later, and Mr. Gialamas mused that his newfound success with fig trees was his friend helping from above, said Mr. Gialamas' wife, Stacia.
"It just snowballed, and it got to the point where we even built a greenhouse" on the 1-acre property, Mrs. Gialamas said. Her husband also cultivated lemon and olive trees, and jasmine plants that he brought back from Greece, she said.
Friends and neighbors looked forward to his gifts of fig trees each Christmas, when he dressed up as Santa Claus to make his deliveries and entertain local children. He also sold figs at the St. Nicholas Greek Festival and from home, with proceeds going to St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.
He was known in the community for his generosity, often going out of his way to help others. Mr. Matz returned the favors by helping Mr. Gialamas land a role as an extra in an episode of The Wire, the Baltimore-based crime drama on HBO.
Mr. Gialamas was deeply religious and was active in his church. He was a staunch supporter and longtime member of the United Chios Society of Baltimore, and at one time was its president. He was an avid member of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, an advocacy organization.
Born in Thimiana, on the Greek island Chios, Mr. Gialamas met his wife while she was vacationing there. They kept in touch through letters and, at age 22, he boarded a ship and caught up with her in West Virginia. They married in 1957 and eventually settled in Baltimore.
Family members said Mr. Gialamas often joked that he had nine lives: He survived a 50-foot fall from a bridge that put him out of work for six years, quadruple bypass surgery, a heart valve replacement, an aneurysm repair, two bleeding ulcers and two hip replacements. Undeterred, he was on his roof power-washing the house as recently as a week before his death.
"He was a fighter. No one loved life more than my dad," said his daughter, Angela Papas, also of Dallas.
Services were held this month.
In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by two sisters, Ioanna Bouloukou and Maria Kargas of Chios; a brother, Gus Gialamas of Cerritos, Calif.; and four grandchildren. He was predeceased by his son, Marino Gialamas.