Sportsman, timber icon, heritage theatre owner, brother, cousin, father, grandfather – Spiro John Notaras was many things, but there is one thing he will not be – forgotten.
Friends and family filled Christ Church Cathedral to overflowing on Monday this week, to celebrate the life and legacy of the Grafton icon. Spiro passed away of ill health following a stroke in May last year.
It was a tearful goodbye from Spiro’s granddaughters, Georgia, Elise, and Natalie, who read poems in his honour. Their words concluded that Spiro would have wanted those gathered to, “Smile, open your eyes, love and go on”.
Cousin Angelo reflected on their childhood days together, filled with fishing, shooting, and bushwalking; days in which they were instilled with values of civic responsibility, and respect of others.
Spiro was also a strong sportsman in his high school days, competing at a high level in rugby, athletics, and swimming. Highlights included a rugby match representing the region against the British Lions. Angelo said his cousin held his own in the match, coming out of it with “severe bruising and a week-long hangover”. Spiro also competed in the 100 metres sprint against Heck Hogan, who would later go on to win Bronze in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.
Spiro’s first job was at the Saraton Theatre, which had been built by the Notaras boys’ fathers. This was followed by purchase of a small timber mill at Lawrence. In those days Spiro would venture out into the bush armed only with cross-cut saws, axes, and an old truck to fetch logs for the mill. He and brother Brinos later relocated the operation to its current South Grafton site, where it has remained for more than 60 years, creating jobs and livelihoods for many Clarence families.
Spiro formed a consortium with his brother and cousin to buy the Saraton Theatre around nine years ago. Spiro then spearheaded an ambitious restoration of the historic theatre, the boys sinking more than $4million into the labour of love. The meticulous restoration was recognised with a NSW Heritage Award.
“These are legacies you can’t put a price on,” Angelo reflected on Monday.
“There were no airs or graces with Spiro – what you saw was what you got … I greatly miss him.”
Long-time mill employee Donna Layton spoke of Spiro as a hard-working man, who earned the respect of his employees. He was also innovative – when the mill hit hard times, Spiro made the unheard of move to change the mill’s operation hours to fit with off-peak power prices, reducing overheads and saving jobs.
Donna said Spiro was also generous with his time, helping out the Grafton Men’s Shed and schools such as Grafton Primary. She added that he was also unafraid to let politicians and media know of his views – several of these politicians were present at the funeral.
Spiro’s son, Paul, was tearful as he reflected fondly on days of fishing together, and his father’s passion in restoring the Saraton to its former glory.
Paul said Spiro was not an overly religious or philosophical person – his ethics were shown through his actions, and the way he treated all with respect.
“To the end, dad led a full life with no regrets. We’re going to miss his loud, infectious laugh, and his sayings, like ‘listen here, you know what I mean?”