Former BEHS principal dies

CHARLESTON — Nick Theos, the former principal of Bishop England High School who was an authoritative and compassionate presence in the lives of thousands of students, died April 26. He was 75.

The funeral was held April 30 at the Greek Orthodox Church of Holy Trinity. The burial was at Live Oak Memorial Gardens.

The family was attended at the bedside by retired Bishop David B. Thompson and Msgr. Lawrence B. McInerny, both of whom worked closely with Theos during his years at Bishop England.

“It was good that I could comfort the family,” Bishop Thompson said during a phone interview with The Miscellany. “I had a great deal of respect for Nick Theos and appreciation for the wonderful work he did. He’s a legend in the diocese and the educational world.”

Theos was born in Charleston on Jan. 31, 1932, a son of the late Jerry and Andromachi Theos. He was a graduate of the High School of Charleston, received a bachelor’s degree from Elon College and a master’s degree in education from East Carolina University.

Theos began his long career in education as a teacher and assistant coach at James Island High School. From there he moved to assistant principal at Gordon Garrett High; principal of Remount Road Elementary; assistant supervisor of North Charleston High School; and principal of the High School of Charleston for three years before accepting the job at Bishop England, where he would finish out his career.

Msgr. McInerny credits Theos with making Bishop England the stand-out school it is today.

When Theos first took the reins in 1972, the school’s finances were in such disarray that it was not uncommon to run out of money by the end of the year, Msgr. McInerny said in his remarks after the funeral.

Theos not only stabilized the finances, he also improved teacher salaries in order to create an outstanding faculty, established an endowment program for students, a retirement plan for teachers, and oversaw the steady improvement of SAT scores to above the national average.

Perhaps his greatest accomplishment, Msgr. McInerny said, was the assistance he provided Bishop Thompson in having Bishop England relocated from a downtown building to a sprawling 40-acre campus on Daniel Island.

But Theos was more than an educator. He grew up poor in an area he called “The Bowery” near Gaillard Auditorium and attended college on a football scholarship.

Despite his family’s financial hardship, Theos credited his mother with always finding a way to pay for singing lessons. Those early lessons led him to a position with Charleston Symphony and an award for top baritone in a state contest. Theos never lost his love for music, especially operas, and continued to sing until throat cancer forced him to stop.

Along with music, Theos also had a great love for gardening and collecting antiques and art.

On the flip side, he was a relentless advocate for the less fortunate and spent countless hours as an adult education volunteer at prisons and elsewhere in the community. He also was a devoted member of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, which is where he met his high school sweetheart and future wife, Katherine Gigis.

Theos received the Benemerenti Medal in 1999, which is a papal honor first conferred by Pope Pius VI in the 18th century in recognition of service to church and society.

Theos often said his greatest honor was the skull cap bestowed upon him by Bishop Thompson during a ceremony at Bishop England.

“He was such a leader and he was doing that work at Bishop England High School on behalf of the bishop of Charleston, so I wanted to make a fuss over him,” Bishop Thompson said. “I put the skull cap on him and told him to keep it.”

Theos’ family offered their gratitude for that gesture again at the bedside vigil, Bishop Thompson said.

During his eulogy at Theos’ funeral, Msgr. McInerny closed his remarks with the Irish observation: “When the truly great leave us, we weep that they are gone, but we certainly smile that they have lived among us.”

Bishop Robert J. Baker also attended the funeral.

“Mr. Theos educated a generation of students at Bishop England High School who are now prominent in many walks of life in the city of Charleston and throughout our country,” he said in an interview with The Miscellany “Our American society is a better place to live because of Nick Theos.”

Surviving are his wife;  two sons, Jerry N. Theos of Mount Pleasant, and Paul N. Theos of Charleston; five grandchildren; and a brother, Chris J. Theos of Ormond Beach, Fla.

Memorials may be made to:

The N.J. Theos Scholarship Fund at Bishop England High School
363 Seven Farms Road
Charleston, SC 29492

The Endowment Fund of the Greek Orthodox Church of Holy Trinity
30 Race Street
Charleston, SC 29403

Hospice House of Charleston
3870 Leeds Avenue, Suite 101
North Charleston, SC 29405