LOWELL -- Former state Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, hailed as a giant of a politician who never forgot his humble beginnings, was recognized Monday for his key role in the development of products so infinitesimally tiny they could fit on the head of pin.
UMass Lowell honored former state Senator Steven Panagiotakos for his help in securing $35 million to build the Mark and Elisia Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center on UML's North Campus. The building's lobby was named for Panagiotakos, who represented the 1st Middlesex District for nearly 14 years and rose to become chairman of the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee. He announced his resignation from politics in 2010.
The late morning ceremony left no doubt that without Panagiotakos' advocacy the building that has come to symbolize the UML renaissance might never have moved off the drawing board.
Several speakers, including UMass President Marty Meehan, Chancellor Jacquie Moloney, state Rep. David Nangle and City Manager Kevin Murphy, used the event to mark Panagiotakos' many achievements -- which they said were done in the name of Lowell first and foremost.
The Saab building was the university's first new academic building since the 1970s. Panagiotakos helped secure the appropriation from the state Legislature in 2006, a year before he became chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Today, the building is home to cutting-edge nanotechnology research and development, with far-reaching applications into such diverse fields as the war on cancer, personal electronics, and commercial aircraft de-icing.
"When he first mentioned nanotechnology we didn't know what the hell he was talking about," said Rep. David Nangle, with a chuckle. "We thought it was an action figure."
Today, the Saab building is a business-incubator that helps drive the economic engine that is UML. Companies like Raytheon are in partnership with the university to develop highly advanced products -- some tiny and invisible to the naked eye -- that pack a punch.
"We're here today to recognize the man who made it all possible," Moloney said.
Ironically, the event almost didn't happen. The university has wanted to recognize Panagiotakos for a number of years, but the humble Highlands resident who cut his political teeth on the Lowell School Committee would have none of it.
It wasn't until recently that he came around.
"It just seemed right," Panagiotakos said following the ceremony.
"Did they spell your name right," Lowell businessman George Behrakis joked with his friend. "But seriously, a well-deserved honor."
In typical fashion, Panagiotakos took the spotlight off himself and shared it with Nangle, Rep. Thomas Golden and Murphy, the former 18th Middlesex District representative.
As Panagiotakos took to the podium, many former Senate colleagues from across the state who attended cheered him on, such as Steve Baddour from Methuen and Therese Murray from Plymouth.
"We shared a unity of spirit and mind," said Panagiotakos. "This is our home, and we worked as a team."
"He was never one to take the credit," recalled Murphy. "Steve always included us in the press conferences."
A local history buff, Panagiotakos used the event for a short history lesson. Noting the proximity of the Saab building to the nearby Pawtucket Falls on the Merrimack River, Panagiotakos explained their places in history: from a once rich fishing area to an early border between Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
"To appreciate where your are it's important to know where you came from," Panagiotakos said. "I'm just very thankful to have played a part in the newest chapter of history along the Pawtucket Falls."