Charles J.'s Story
Charles J. Gargas, aka “Mr. Elita”, passed away on Friday January 27, 2017, surrounded by his loving family. Charles, with his identical twin brother, John, was born on March 23, 1922 in Peabody. They were the third and fourth of ten children born to Peter and Catherine Gargalianos, who had immigrated to the United States from Samos, Greece. Charles grew up in Peabody, where he and his siblings, Tony, Marian, John, Stubby, Michael, Aspacia, Angelo, Jimmy, and Steve, all of whom spoke only Greek at home, were immersed in the English language while attending the Peabody schools. While in high school, Charles and John arose early in the morning, walked to Salem where they worked in the leather factories preparing hides, and then walked back to Peabody to attend school. When their Principal learned what they were required to do to help support their family, he permitted them to arrive at school before the third bell so they would not be marked tardy.
After graduation from high school, Charles attended the Vesper George School of Art in Boston, after which he enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 10, 1943. He served as a Squad Leader of twelve men in the Eighth Armored Division in the Battle of the Bulge. He received Good Conduct and Victory medals, as well as Victory and European African Middle Eastern Theater Campaign ribbons. Charles’ twin brother, John, was killed in action in Italy on February 6, 1944.
Following his honorable discharge on December 13, 1945, Charles returned home to Peabody, where me met and married the love of his life, Elita Valaskatgis. Together, they decided to follow a dream and open a flower shop. After several years of working in the basement of the family’s County Street home, they started Elita’s Flowers at 59 Main St. in Peabody Square. The shop became known for the high quality of their work and won many awards and recognition. Not too many couples can successfully work in a small space separated by one table, especially during their busiest times of holidays and weddings, but they did. Each had his or her own expertise in different aspects of the job and their collaboration worked well. Besides the production side, the shop became a center of activity where people would come sometimes just to visit “Charlie” and “Lee.” Their three daughters, Kathryn, Melanie and Charlene, grew up in the flower shop assisting in various chores, from watering the plants, delivering the flowers, to actual designing.
In 1988, after 42 years in business, Charles and Elita decided to retire. However, their time to enjoy retirement was extremely brief, since Elita succumbed to cancer in March 1989. Despite the tragic loss of his wife, Charles forged ahead, his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren filling his life. In addition, he returned to his love of painting. His primary medium was oils, but he also enjoyed watercolors and sketching. He was an active member of the Lynnfield Art Guild (having served as its President for several years), the Peabody Art Guild, and the Rockport Art Guild.
In addition, he was a dedicated member of the St. Vasilios Greek Orthodox Church and the St. Vasilios Men’s Club. He was a lifetime member of AHEPA and a Freemason of Jordan Lodge.
Charles was all about family, commitment, hard work, faith, and respect for his country. He never complained about taking on the responsibility of his mother and siblings during the depression and after the war. He suffered many personal losses of siblings besides his twin, Tony, Stubby, Marian, Jimmy, and Angelo. He was the family’s historian and for a self-taught man, his knowledge of history was remarkable.
Charles lived alone and enjoyed driving, cooking, family, and friends. The one thing he could not overcome, however, was the unfortunate and sudden passing of his loving grandson, Peter Charles Nicholson, in April of last year.
Charles is survived by his daughters, Kathryn C. Tolios (Timothy Tolios), Melanie J. Gargas (Ronald Witmer), and Charlene L. Nicholson (William Nicholson); five grandchildren, Cassandra J. Colburn (Brian Colburn), Christina L. Nicholson, Tricia L. Rogers (Sean Rogers); Christopher T. Tolios, and Elita C. Nicholson; four step-grandchildren, Jonathan B. Witmer, Suzanne W. Biddle, Amy L. Witmer and Christine W. Powers (Todd Powers); five great-grandchildren, Calista West Colburn, Charles Wellington Colburn, Theodora Mae Colburn, Kiley Rose Nicholson, and Peter William Nicholson III; and ten step great-grandchildren. He is also survived by his brothers, Stephen Gargas and Michael Gargas, and his sister, Aspacia Cassidy; his godchildren, Corrinna Gagnon and Athan Vontzalides; his adopted family of Steve, Linda, Stephanie and Matthew Raymond; his friends George Illingworth, Marcia Lewis and Susan Harrington; and his many devoted and loving nieces, nephews and friends.
Visiting hours will be Wednesday Feb. 1, 2017 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Conway, Cahill-Brodeur Funeral Home, 82 Lynn St., Peabody. Funeral Service will take place at 11 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017 at St. Vasilios Greek Orthodox Church, 7 Paleologos St., Peabody, followed by interment at Cedar Grove Cemetery, Peabody. Flowers will be welcomed. Please visit www.ccbfuneral.com for online obituary and sign condolences.
Published on  January 31, 2017