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In 1949, Michael Jovanovic emigrated from the former Yugoslavia to the United States, and used his own educational scholarship to support his brother -- also an immigrant — through dental school. Afterwards, his brother supported him, through a life of ebullient generosity.
"His idea was to help others. And with that, he was very persistent," remembers Michael’s dear friend Sasha Lekic. "And his specialty was to help others that no one else wanted to help."
Michael spent hundreds of hours volunteering with young Balkan immigrants who couldn’t afford an education. He bypassed humble financial aid applications and — armed with his faith in higher goals, wearing suit and tie — sallied into the offices of University Presidents who did not know him.
"When he was asking for help, those people were always smiling — they knew trouble was coming, but they knew that trouble was not going away, and that trouble would be passing them in a nice way, in an original way," Sasha recalls.
A deep Christian Orthodoxy drove him. And Michael was certain the hands of God touched more than men. It was a scientific miracle to him that a chicken knew to break from its egg at exactly 21 days. He and his brother cross-bred them, and he showed their photos like a proud parent. Once, an important bishop came to town.
"And Michael out of respect and love for this man during a celebration, during this event, he said, 'I have a special gift for you.' And he gave him a live chicken as a present that he bred," Sasha remembers. "And there is a picture that I don’t have of the bishop with big eyes, almost half flabbergasted half smiling like, 'What is this?' And of course Michael, a big smile next to him."
The help he offered was endless. As a devout pacifist, he wrote letters to newspapers, decrying war. But he also wrote Queen Elizabeth, recommending that she stop Prince Charles’ divorce proceedings. The Queen did not take his advice.
"His dreams, to be honest, were not always realistic," Sasha recalls.
But they were always altruistic. In a letter to the editor after 9/11, Michael laid out the credo that inspired him to kindnesses again and again: “Let us invoke the spirit of Dostoyevksy,” he wrote. “Every single life is more valuable than a galaxy of stars.”
Michael Jovanovic died last February in Arlington. He was 94 years old.
Did you know Michael Jovanovic? Share your memories in the comments section.
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