A laughing angel

November 1, 2007 by  
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Life’s trials can’t wipe the smile off Joann Crassas’ face

Where Joann Crassas wanders, laughter is sure to follow. Joann sees the humorous side of everything and her humor is never bitter or unkind. Instead of making fun of others, she usually makes fun of herself and her life, which she says is, “the real life version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

Born Joann Yianitsas in Beaumont, she is the daughter of Greek immigrants who fluently spoke three languages and could get by in several others.

Her mother sat with Joann for years as the child practiced piano and encouraged her only daughter to excel in music and education.

“[I was] an ugly, awkward child who had to develop a sense of humor and a personality because I wasn’t going to make it in the looks category.” It wasn’t long before a swan emerged from that ugly duckling. At Lamar University, she was elected a campus beauty.

Joann had two brothers both of whom died in their 40s, one of cancer, the other of heart disease. “I’ve seen the devastation that disease causes for families,” she says. “My mother suffered terribly over the loss of her sons, and, my father died relatively young and suddenly.”

The Determined Suitor
Bill Crassas, a New York businessman of Greek heritage, had heard for years about the beautiful Greek belle from Beaumont who could sing, play the piano, and had a master’s degree in education.

“He tells me, ‘I never dreamed it would all be true,'” she says.

On a trip to New York, a business associate of her father invited Joann and her mother to dinner and introduced them to Bill Crassas.

“He made me laugh,” she remembers. “But, I wasn’t interested. He wasn’t my type.”

However, there are two sides to every story. “I was just planning on having a drink and getting out of there,” he says. “I was surprised. Here sat the most beautiful woman I had ever seen and she was funny and intelligent as well. I knew instantly she was the woman I’d marry.”

However, convincing Joann would take some work, especially after the summer of 1961 when she went to Europe.

“That summer was like something out of the movies. I went to Europe with my mother. The Greek community is really tribal,” Joann says. “Everyone knows everyone else. We were guests of Aristotle Onasis in Athens, Maria Callas was on the yacht, and there was a Greek pop singer.”

Three months later, when Joann and her mother returned from Greece, Bill was waiting for them as they got off their plane in New York.

He kept up with her European adventure through a friend who was a CIA agent. Bill had been with the foreign service in Greece in 1954-55 and maintained contacts, who informed him when Joann returned to the States.

Later on, Bill’s father asked Joann in front of Bill and other members of his family, “When are you going to marry my son?” Joann says, “I nearly fell out of my chair. In an off-the-cuff reply I said, ‘Oh, someday,’ and laughed. Well it was no joke to the Crassas family. They all began hugging me and congratulating Bill and bam! We were engaged.”

Bill moved to Houston and opened a branch of the family ship supply business. He burned the freeways traveling back and forth to Beaumont courting Joann while she had doubts about actually getting married.

“For me, marriage was a lifetime commitment and I did not want to get it wrong. I went to church and prayed,” she says. “It was like a cloud lifted, and I knew it was the right thing to do. Until that moment I was headed back to Europe in my mind, back to the jet-set life.”

Still smiling, still helping
Forty-five years, two children and three grandchildren later, Joann remains sure it was the right thing to do. “Bill is still the most entertaining man I’ve ever met. He loves me and he tells me that every day. We laugh all the time and cherish every day we have together. Laughter and God have gotten me through everything,” she explains.

As they smile together, both Joann and Bill have also battled side-by-side together against cancer. Both are now cancer free and sing the praises of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Joann is an incredibly energetic person who has worn many hats over the years. She was a schoolteacher for three years. She was co-producer for the “Texas Today” TV show on Channel 51 for its tenure and spent eight years on Hunter’s Creek City Council. She now works with Personette &Associates as a realtor.

In the world of charity and volunteerism, Joann has worked tirelessly. “I do it for the camaraderie and the cause,” she says.

In January, she was honored as an ABC Channel 13 2007 Woman of Distinction for her volunteerism.

Much of Joann’s volunteer work revolves around medicine and science as she devotes time and energy to Baylor College of Medicine, The University of Houston, Moores School of Music, Houston Ballet, Houston Symphony and Ronald McDonald House.

On Nov. 8 at Reliant Center, Joann Crassas, Karan Robinson and Shawn Stephens will co-chair the Saks Fifth Avenue Fashion Show and Luncheon benefiting the Ballet Guild’s Nutcracker Market. For tickets call 713-535-3231.

Also for the Christmas season, Joann is again chairing The Angel Tree program for the Salvation Army. For more information, call the Salvation Army at 713-752-0677. This program provides gifts to needy children and seniors. Angel Trees are located in participating shopping malls as well as businesses and organizations. From the trees, donors select Angel tags, which list the individual’s first name, age, clothing and shoe size, as well as one need and one wish. The donor purchases the Angel’s presents and the Salvation Army ensures they arrive at the Angel’s door. Little will they realize a laughing angel has helped them.

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