Obituaries : Homer Habibis

Homer Habibis, doctor and community leader: born Nicosia 23 June 1917; married Stella Murray (one son, three daughters); died London 13 December 1994.

Homer Habibis was first elected President of the London-based Greek Cypriot Brotherhood in 1960 and, but for a short break, retained this post until his retirement in 1989. His patience and diplomacy succeeded in healing, at least in Britain, the politi c al differences that seem historically characteristic of Greeks and Greek Cypriots. He was also President of the influential World Federation of Overseas Cypriots from 1984 until his death.

Habibis was born in Nicosia, in 1917, when Cyprus was a quiet corner of the British Empire. He went to school with the future Archbishop Mihail Makarios, and they remained in close contact. In 1935 he enrolled to study medicine in Athens, while Makarios joined the theological school of Athens. When the Second World War reached Greece in 1941, young Habibis worked at the Military Hospital in Kifissia, severing the frost-bitten limbs of the men (and women) who were defeating the Fascist armies.

After the country fell to the Germans, he managed to qualify as a doctor, even as hundreds and thousands of Athenians were dying of cold and hunger, many of them in the streets. He then joined the resistance movement only to be caught and sent to a PoW camp for British prisoners in Italy.

After the war, he was sent back to Cyprus and caught the first ship with Cypriot emigrants bound for England. He obtained a job at the Great Ormond Street Hospital, before starting his own practice in Bayswater.

Like many emigrants, he left his country wanting ``to become something else'', to adopt the manners and, by extension, obtain the status offered by the host country. He felt that he wanted to lose something of his past, but this eventually created a "civil war" inside him as the voice from the old country lived on.

Despite the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, Habibis harboured no antagonism against his fellow Turkish Cypriots. In 1988, the son of a Turkish Cypriot friend he had helped to find a job asked him to be best man at his wedding; he gladly accepted.

In the 1990s a new generation of Anglo-Greek Cypriots referred to him affectionately as "the Dinosaur". His interest in the younger generations, and his passion and struggle at all levels to see his island reunited, remained unabated, and, according to his friends, was a topic of serious thought and humour right up to his deathbed.