Dr. Paloumpis, former HCC president, dies

Cancer takes the man who stabilized the college and led it through years of rapid development until his style wore thin.

Published February 2, 2006

TAMPA - He ate it up when people called him Kojak, and for 13 years, he was the man who policed Hillsborough Community College as its No. 1 administrator.

Andreas "Andy" Paloumpis died in his Davis Islands home Tuesday after a yearlong struggle with cancer. He was 80.

Under Dr. Paloumpis, the fifth and longest-serving president of the community college, the school doubled enrollment, built a Brandon campus, established a learning center at MacDill Air Force Base, opened an Institute of Florida Studies and won the National Junior College World Series.

"Dr. Andreas Paloumpis played a key role in making Hillsborough Community College the success it is today," his successor and current president Gwendolyn Stephenson said in a statement.

Dr. Paloumpis' HCC career lasted from 1983 until 1997, but his final years were marred by complaints that he ruled with anger and intimidation, prompting the board of trustees to vote him out. The vote was retracted, and Dr. Paloumpis agreed to step down when his contract ended.

"My overall picture was he came to Hillsborough Community College at a time when his personality was needed, and as it went later, his style of management needed to change and he really overstayed his welcome there," said Michael Sparkman, a former HCC trustee and board chairman. "But he was a fabulous leader during the troubles of the college.

"He should really be commended for his accomplishments because he really put it on the map."

Dr. Paloumpis was born in Minonk, Ill. He earned his undergraduate degrees at the University of Illinois and his doctorate from Iowa State University. He served in the Army Air Forces during World War II, taught high school science and became a zoology professor at Illinois State University, according to HCC. A trained ichthyologist, he studied fish, but didn't like to eat them.

Dr. Paloumpis amassed what was once the largest freshwater fish bone collection, which he donated to the University of Florida.

When his children came to him with concerns, he dissected the problems like a scientist.

"You would always get his opinion, and he would always work it through with you," said his son, Tom Paloumpis, 54. "He would actually make you figure out the best way to go about solving problems."

He presided over two colleges before he came to HCC, which had cycled through several presidents and controversies. Dr. Paloumpis stabilized it.

He became widely known in part because of his resemblance to actor Telly Savalas, who played the television detective Kojak. He used to hand out pictures of himself autographed with Kojak's trademark "Love ya, baby."

Dr. Paloumpis' job took him to colleges across the nation, putting him in touch with football boosters. In 1986, he became a founding member of the Hall of Fame Bowl, later renamed the Outback Bowl.

"When you start something around town," Outback Bowl sales director Jerry Kulig said, "there's a group of people you need." Dr. Paloumpis was that kind of person.

But his blunt style of leadership wore thin at HCC beginning in the early 1990s.

Trustees authorized a study of the administration that concluded that Paloumpis humiliated and mistreated employees. Sparkman remembers him as a "control freak' ' who worked long hours. People would see him smoking cigarettes in his smoke-free workplace into the early morning.

"He was a workaholic," Sparkman said. "He minded everything."

Former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco spoke well of Dr. Paloumpis. "He did a good job over there," Greco said. "He might have been intimidating looking, but he was a real nice guy."

After Dr. Paloumpis left HCC, he became two-year interim president of Luzerne County Community College in northeast Pennsylvania, which was struggling with budgetary, administrative and labor problems, things Paloumpis looked forward to fixing. But his time there led to a lawsuit, settled last year, claiming he had created a sexually hostile environment.

"I like institutions that are having some problems," he told the Times in 2002, "because they are much more challenging."

He spent recent years being a grandfather, grabbing his grandchildren and cannonballing into a swimming pool with them.

Dr. Paloumpis is survived by his wife, Bess; his sons, Tom and Evan; a sister, Mary Hallick of Milwaukee; a brother, Hercules, of Minonk; and three grandchildren. Viewing will be at Brewer & Sons Funeral Home, 3328 S Dale Mabry Highway, from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Services will be 10 a.m. Monday at St. John's Greek Orthodox Church, 2418 Swann Ave. The church will host a reception following interment at Myrtle Hill Cemetery.

Times news researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at jgeorge@sptimes.com or 813 226-3368.