Rick Chase met Andrew Vathis 25 years ago while they were working at Albertsons on the South Hill.
Immediately, Chase said, he knew Vathis was a people-person because he would talk to everybody and treat them as a friend.
“To him, working at the store was about the people,” Chase said.
It’s that sense of friendship that drew more than 1,000 people to Ferris High School on Saturday for Vathis’ memorial. Vathis was struck by a car last month and died from his injuries.
Many groups attended the memorial, such as firefighters whom he visited regularly, his Hoopfest team, his Special Olympics team, his Albertsons’ coworkers and fellow fans of Spokane sports teams. Each had a story to tell about their friendship with Vathis, who was called an icon, an ambassador and an epitome of kindness.
Vathis was born in Athens, Greece, and had complications during his birth and a bone disorder that would leave him with an intellectual disability.
Doctors gave him five days to live.
But Vathis lived to speak his first words at 2. He took kindergarten twice. And he graduated from Ferris High School in 1986. He was trained in culinary arts for two years and worked for Eddie Bauer for a year before finding himself unable to get a job.
Chaplain Ed Hoffman, who gave Vathis’ eulogy Saturday, said that Vathis’s mom recalled what he said when he was unable to find work: “ ‘Mom, I’m not stupid,’ ” Vathis told his mother. “ ‘Why don’t they just give me a job?’ ”
Shortly after, Vathis found his job at Albertsons, which he held for almost 30 years. He was able to move out of his mother’s house and gain a sense of independence, Hoffman said.
“His life was what he made it to be,” Hoffman said. “He made his own decisions. He made the world a better place.”
Vathis participated in the Special Olympics in Spokane and surrounding areas, and recently won a gold medal in sportsmanship for helping a competitor across the line in a footrace – after he was winning and stopped and turned around to encourage his competitor to finish the race.
Chase remembers accompanying Vathis to Spokane Indians and Spokane Chiefs games and recalled feeling like Vathis was a rock star.
“Everyone knew him,” Chase said. “Everyone said hello.”
Vathis was survived by his mother Erika and his brothers Michael and Peter, who were at the memorial.
To wrap up the memorial, Boomer, the Spokane Chiefs’ mascot, escorted Erika Vathis out of the room to a standing ovation.
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