Anastasios G. Leventis was born in Cyprus in December 1902, in the Cypriot mountain village of Lemythou, the home of his mother Salome. The earliest records of her family go back to the 18th Century when a young ancestor had travelled to the Peloponnese to join in the abortive 1770 uprising against the Ottoman rule. The family members and connections during the 19th Century included a number of distinguished clerics who served at the highest levels-metropolitan bishops and even one patriarch-in the orthodox churches of Jerusalem and Antioch and also in the church of Cyprus..
Anastasios’ secondary education was at the Mitsis School in Lemythou, founded by an emigrant from the village who had made his fortune in Egypt and set up a school that specialized in commercial subjects and foreign languages. At the end of the First World War the young Anastasios, determined to improve his education and prospects, travelled to visit his elder brother, George, who was already in Egypt and from there took ship to Marseilles, where he first found work and then completed his commercial education at the ‘Ecole Superieure de Commerce in Bordeaux. Through a Marseilles contact he found employment with an Anglo-Greek Manchester based company in a rural part of south-eastern Nigeria in 1920 and, two years later, with a British company, also based in Manchester, as the manager of their branch in Abeokuta in the south-west of the country.
In the 19th century Abeokuta, capital of Egbaland, had been the centre of missionary and educational activity for a large part of West Africa and was an important cultural and training centre. The young Anastasios made many friends there that he would retain for most of his life. Fifty years later the Alake (King) of Egbaland conferred on him the honorary Chieftaincy title of Babalaje.
Anastasios G. Leventis was, above all, a dynamic and inspired man of business. By 1928 he was Deputy General Manager in Nigeria οf the G.B. Ollivants company and, in 1929, at the age of 26, he was transferred to Accra, capital of the Gold Coast (now Ghana), to take over as general manager of the company’s business in that country and in Ivory Coast and Togo. The Gold Coast was the most advanced of the British colonies in West Africa and already had an embryonic system of local self-administration, with a Legislative Council at its apex. Anastasios G. Leventis was chosen by the
commercial community as a member of the Legislative Council to represent its interests. He also served as Chairman of the Accra Chamber of Commerce.
In 1936 Anastasios G. Leventis formed his own company, A.G. Leventis & Company Limited, joined by George Keralakis and, a little later by Christos (Christodoulos) Leventis, Anastasios’ younger brother. The new company, although established at the height of the depression, made rapid progress and soon had branches in all parts of Golden Coast. In 1942 Christodoulos moved to Nigeria to set up branches of the company there. A.G. Leventis and Company Limited was soon to rival the large, long-established trading companies based in England, France and Switzerland that stood at the heart of the colonial West African economy. This rivalry brought its own problems when, in the immediate post-war period, these older companies formed the Association of West African Merchants to maintain their near-monopoly of imports and their high profit margins. The Association fought the newcomer with all the means at its disposal, using its influence with the colonial authorities. Anastasios G. Leventis fought back with characteristic boldness, won the battle, and emerged much strengthened, particularly in the eyes of the Gold Coast public. When resentment of high prices and the incipient nationalist movement brought about the Accra riots of 1948, the most serious instance of anti-colonial violence in post-war Western Africa, the only large stores that were not burnt were those of A.G. Leventis & Company Limited.
Over the quarter of the century from the end of the war, the business matured changed and expanded into a number of new ventures in the manufacturing and technical fields, in the process transferring its focus from Ghana to the much larger Nigerian economy. By the time of his death of its founder in 1978, it was one of the largest enterprises and one of the two largest employers in that country and was on the point of expanding into other parts of the world.
Business was by no means Anastasios G. Leventis’ only interest. He had played a leading part in social and philanthropic life in pre-war Gold Coast. He was appointed honorary Consul-General of Greece in Accra and threw himself heart and soul into the war effort, collecting aid for that war-torn country. He helped with many projects to improve life in the villages connected with his
family in Cyprus, supported many students at courses overseas and helped a large number of people in need.
These efforts were intensified in the face of the problems created by events in the island during the late fifties and sixties. Anastasios G. Leventis aided his newly independent homeland in a number of ways. President Makarios, with whom he had collaborated to found the main old people’s home in Nicosia, made used of Anastasios political expertise at several meetings of the United Nations General Assembly and, in 1966, appointed him Cyprus’ first Ambassador and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, in recognition of his support of education and the cultural heritage of Cyprus.
Anastasios G. Leventis had been particularly active in supporting the Department of Antiquities’ restoration of two important Byzantine monuments and in helping the Cyprus Government to project the image of its cultural and artistic heritage abroad. He himself was very interested in the arts and built up a notable collection of French and European paintings in Paris. In Athens he acquired the important first collection of Evangelos Averoff, representative of Greek painting from the early 19th to the mid 20th century.
The 1974 invasion of Cyprus imposed a special burden on Anastasios G. Leventis; not only was his own home village, Petra, occupied by the Turkish army, with the loss of the cultural centre and family church he had built there, but he had to deal, at UNESCO, with the overwhelming problem of the invaders’ destruction of the cultural heritage in the occupied area. He gave what help he could to repatriate treasures stolen and smuggled abroad; above all, there were the needs of the injured and the refugees, which he did his best to help alleviate. The great pressures of the situation were certainly a factor in his last serious illness which struck at the end of 1976. Anastasios G. Leventis died in October 1978. having provided for the establishment of a Foundation to support educational, cultural, artistic and philanthropic causes in Cyprus, Greece and elsewhere.