When Northeastern University hired George Makris as its first director of athletic development in 1977, it didn’t take long for the former 1947 football captain to show he was the right person for the job.
His first task was to raise $150,000 to upgrade the university athletic program. Within two years, Mr. Makris had reached $500,000. He then embarked on a drive to refurbish the former Boston Arena, now NU’s Matthews Arena, by helping to raise more than $1 million.
His own generosity over the years included establishing the endowed George P. and Helen C. Makris Family Scholarship fund in 2008, which annually supports a Northeastern student-athlete.
“George was an iconic figure in our community,” Joseph E. Aoun, Northeastern’s president said in a statement. “For more than 70 years, as both a student and staff member, George maintained an unwavering dedication to Northeastern, and he inspired that same dedication in others.”
A former division manager for Electrolux Corp., where he started out as a salesman, Mr. Makris died Sunday in the Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers of congestive heart failure. He was 96 and a longtime resident of Wellesley and York, Maine.
“George was always a hard worker, and I don’t think he ever missed a Northeastern football game,” said former Northeastern hockey coach Don McKenney. “He knew everybody around campus, and if he didn’t know you, he’d introduce himself. To many of us, he was Mr. Northeastern.”
In 1983, Mr. Makris was inducted into the Northeastern Varsity Club Hall of Fame. The Varsity Club room at Matthews Arena was named in his honor in 1992.
On his 85th birthday, Mr. Makris treated 60 co-workers and friends to lunchtime pizza and soft drinks. “Working with younger people keeps me young, and it’s a good feeling to steer a new student in the right direction or to the right person,” Mr. Makris told the Globe.
Current Northeastern hockey coach Jim Madigan, who worked alongside Mr. Makris in the athletic development office from 1999 to 2004, called him “an institution within an institution. George had the personal touch in building relationships, and he had a booming and commanding voice that caught your attention. Coming to the office for him wasn’t a job, it was a love affair.”
A son of Philip Makris and the former Smaragda Stavropoulos, George Philip Makris was a graduate of Cambridge High and Latin School.
In 1955, he married Helen Culolias, an elementary school teacher in the Cambridge public schools who also taught expository writing at Northeastern.
“They loved to dance and were also true partners in life,” said their son Will of Somerville. “To them, friends were like family.”
Mr. Makris’s best sport was football. He was a 225-pound lineman nicknamed “Moose” and a kicker whose extra-point conversion made the difference in a 13-12 victory for Northeastern’s freshman team over Wentworth Institute in 1940.
He was also a baseball outfielder and hockey goalie. Originally the hockey team’s manager for Northeastern, Mr. Makris was pressed into emergency service in net because of injuries and ineligibility. He played well enough to earn a varsity letter. “I had never played goalie before and I was not a very good skater, but the goalie pads helped balance me,” he told the Globe in 2006.
Mr. Makris, who played varsity football as a sophomore in 1941, returned to Northeastern after serving as a sergeant in the Army during World War II. He said on the university website that the homecoming was sad because three teammates did not return from the war.
In 2010, he received the Distinguished American Award from the Eastern Massachusetts Chapter of the National Football Foundation, for which he had served as president and director.
“George was a pillar of our chapter,” said the foundation board member Ed Schluntz, a former Brookline High coach and athletic director who played for Tufts University against Mr. Makris.
“George was short and very strong, and you couldn’t move him,” Schluntz recalled. “When the ball was snapped, he never let up until the whistle blew.”
After graduating with a degree in business in 1948, Mr. Makris began a 22-year career at Electrolux, retiring in 1970. He subsequently was the Varsity Club treasurer and president at Northeastern.
His “Fight to Educate” amateur boxing program at Matthews Arena raised more than $1 million for athletic scholarships, and his fund-raising efforts also supported restoration of Northeastern’s Parsons Field and Solomon Court.
His sons Will and Philip, who lives in Manhattan Beach, Calif., are Northeastern graduates. They said they admired and learned from his commitment and devotion to the university, his church, and his family.
In addition to his wife and two sons, Mr. Makris leaves a granddaughter.
A service will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday in St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Weston, which Mr. Makris helped found and where he was a past president. Interment will be in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.
Mr. Makris was a longtime member and financial supporter of the Marlborough chapter of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, and he was inducted in 2006 into the organization’s Hall of Fame.
“George is a born fund-raiser. And he is as good a friend as his alma mater will ever have,” former Northeastern sports information director Jack Grinold, who died earlier this year, told the Globe in 2006 after that hall of fame induction.
Mr. Makris retired at age 70 but worked in an emeritus capacity the rest of his life. When his illness kept him out of the office he had once shared with Grinold, Mr. Makris would call athletic director Peter Roby to see if he could help in any way.
“There are few people who embodied a lifelong passion for Northeastern University and our athletics programs more than George,” Roby said in a statement, “and his dedication and love of Northeastern was unmatched.”Marvin Pave can be reached at email@example.com.