The legend and legacy of F. Harry Stowe-Polly

The legend and legacy of
F. Harry Stowe-Polly
by Andrew Leech (

ELT News March 2005
F.Harry Stowe-Polly was a poor immigrant to the US in the late 1800s. A proud, though humble man, he was determined to keep the philosophy he and his people before him had always believed in. He was also determined the world would learn his name and know of the good and kindness he tried to spread around.

His mother had chosen his name as a way of expressing the gratitude she felt at having a child after 45 years of barrenness and always pointed out he was a special person, created to do special things for the world. “Whenever you talk to someone or help them in any small way, make a point of introducing yourself,” she said. “That way the world will get to hear of you.” Her final injunction, just the day before she died, was this: “people either remember the first thing you said, or the last; and more often than not it is the last. So make a point of introducing yourself last, and always after having performed some small kind, helpful human action.”

After landing at Ellis Island, Mr Stowe realised that the unpronounceable script of his name would have to be changed if he was to make any headway in this new land and he got a a kindly official who took pity on his unkempt appearance to write his name in English - F. Harry Stowe-Polly. “With a double barrelled name they’ll think you’re an English lord,” he joked. By this time all Ellis Island knew of him. “Stand still while I check you for lice,” murmured the doctor. “F.Harry Stowe-Polly” was the reply. “Can you cook or build roads?” the employment official asked. “F.Harry Stowe-Polly,” was again the reply. “What do you have to offer America, Mr Stowe-Polly?” the senior Immigration Officer asked and, with a holy radiance on his face the Greek who had previously never uttered a word of English replied: “I can make people feel good. I can make them understand the other appreciates them. I can bring a feeling of humanity to a cold crowd of strangers merely at the sound of my name.”

The officials were amazed at his linguistic powers and mechanically stamped his papers, leaving him free to leave Ellis Island. “F.Harry Stowe-Polly” he yelled as he boarded a ferry for the Battery. “F.Harry Stowe-Polly” he said softly as he picked up an old lady’s glove. “F.Harry Stowe-Polly” he answered as he received his first edible meal (spanakopita and ouzo) at Panayot’s New York Ouzery; and “F. Harry Stowe-Polly” was the only reply as a policeman beat with a nightstick for daring to smile on a rainy day.

Over the next 40 years, F.Harry Stowe-Polly taught his philosophy to all who would listen and became so famous that various presidents would invite him to the White House to learn his secret of impressing people. Even Al Capone once thought of exterminating him as his philosophy somewhat negated the mobster’s idea of what protection should offer, the Greek’s version of another belief called by the esoteric name Filotimo, worrying him as unfair competition.

But F.Harry Stowe-Polly survived, even being referred to by J.Edgar Hoover as “a big-mouthed member of a big-mouthed race.The Italians gave us spaghetti, Caruso and the Mafia, but left our minds to use as we wished, during the intervals. Now the Greeks, with their eternal references to F. Harry Stowe-Polly are not only pushing philosophy down our throats, but making us think about it during the intervals. It’s intolerable!”

Even today, in the era of big business, test-tube babies and Internet, whenever you are feeling down, dejected, unwanted or unloved, the memory of the central tenet of F.Harry Stowe-Polly’s philosophy can bring warmth into your life. It’s so simple. Just call his name at some appropriate moment and feel the atmosphere around you change and become so much more positive than before. 

(Η αγάπη είναι το μελάνι, η σοφία είναι το μήνυμα.)

Love is the ink; wisdom is the message!

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