Doukas: Dedicated Daughter, Student
September 18, 2004 9:55 PM
In the Greek Orthodox tradition, Saturday of the Souls is a twice-yearly celebration intended, in part, to remind the living of the fragile nature of life and the finality of death. Nothing seemed more self-evident Friday night as friends and family packed into the Fountain of Youth Chapel at Greek Memorial Park to honor the life of SF State photojournalist Stacey Doukas.
Remembered for her passion, selflessness and vibrant, flowing dreadlocks, Doukas left an almost universal glow with everyone she met.
“You can’t think of Stacey without smiling,” said Tula Gieseker, Doukas’ aunt whom Stacey called ‘Tootsie.’
Killed in a car accident Wednesday, Sept. 8. Anastasia Irini Doukas, 28, was buried with her grandfather Nicolas in a massive, granite plot at the peak of Greek Memorial Park, the cemetery he founded in 1935. Mourners stacked brilliantly colored flower arrangements nearly seven feet high around the flagpole that marks Doukas’ gravesite.
In Greek, Anastasia means “the resurrection” and Doukas’ final resting place is just feet from the small, wooden chapel that as children, she and her brother Greg would race to finish cleaning in preparation for the Saturday of the Souls celebration.
But there was no celebration Friday as more than 300 people came to pay homage to a dutiful daughter, loyal friend and gifted student. For many, the memorial was a needed release.
“It was a lot more healing than I expected,” said Karen Chan, Doukas’ best friend since grade school. “I felt like I could sleep that night.”
At the age of 12, Doukas met Chan at Fernando Rivera Middle School. At the predominantly Philipino school, the two “outcasts” clicked instantly and spent hours reading silently in the library.
“We saw each other everyday with the rest of the nerdier kids who would sooner read Clan of the Cave Bear than play tetherball,” Chan said. “We were just a couple of misfits who fit.”
Doukas’ mother has multiple sclerosis and it was at around that time that she began to deteriorate. Her mother would soon require constant supervision and Doukas took it upon herself to take care of her-- along with rigors of school, work and a large Greek family.
“It was very hard for her to balance work and school, but she never once used it as an excuse,” said Ken Kobre, director of the photojournalism sequence at SF State. “I don’t know any student who has had that big of a burden.”
Doukas had to repeat many of her photojournalism courses and Kobre said that the technical elements didn’t come easy to her. Chan tried to shed light on some of these challenging moments.
“Her mother would go into the hospital, and those are the times she fell apart in school,” Chan said.
Doukas also cared for, and lived with, her elderly grandmother, or “yaya” in Greek.
“As soon as she came in the room she would say ‘Yaya how can I help you? Yaha what can I do for you,’” said Tula Doukas, Stacey’s grandmother.
It seemed Doukas lived a double life: One part “dutiful daughter,” one part passionate and eccentric student.
In addition to photography and writing, Doukas studied German, a passion acquired after embarking on a semester abroad to Europe in 1997.
Wanting to stay in Europe but feeling an immense responsibility to her family back home, Doukas returned in 2000.
“Family always came first,” said best friend Chan.
Back at home, Doukas enrolled at SF State and worked her way through the photojournalism sequence, producing note worthy photo stories covering a Mission restaurant, a female boxer and a cross-dresser. Kobre said that she had recently turned the corner professionally.
“She finally understood what photojournalism meant and it was a marvelous thing to see,” said Kobre.
Students, friends and family all spoke of a caring, kind and thoughtful woman who accepted everyone unconditionally and who lit up the room wherever she went. And no one could forget the dreadlocks.
“She was really someone special and her hair reflected that,” said Sara Henderson, a photojournalism major and friend of Doukas’. “She was always really nice and picked me up with encouragement. That’s just who Stacey was.”
“She wouldn’t let me quit,” said Ted Mendoza. “She had a way of bringing people back.”
Others spoke of the sincerity and sometimes brutal honesty that earned her loyal friends and an occasional enemy.
“She was a great friend to have and was always transparent,” said SF State alumnus Martin Jimenez. “She would give you an opinion, money, anything you needed…but she would always let you know where you stood with her. She never held anything back.”
The photojournalism department is working on plans to release a book comprised of Doukas’ work, with proceeds going to a scholarship already established in her name. The hope is not only to raise money but also awareness.
“Looking at the projects she did, you really got a sense of who she was: a sensitive and talented photographer,” said friend and photojournalist Natalie Schrik. “ Her family didn’t know a lot about what she did at school. We can give them a piece of her they didn’t know.”
Friends attribute Doukas’ rough, flamboyant, in your face attitude to her childhood with a tough and protective brother, and to her mother’s increasingly dependent medical situation.
“She just never got a break,” said Chan. “A lot of people didn’t realize just how vulnerable and needy she was because she played the tough girl. She still needed love, support and someone to hold her hand.”
Chan said that Doukas often struggled with her self-esteem, but that she recently had been more upbeat due to a big promotion and blossoming relationship. She was promoted to a salaried managerial position at Medjoul, a Mediterranean restaurant she only recently began working at and for which she had no previous experience.
“She was just so proud of herself,” Chan said.
She had also purchased airline tickets to visit a man oversees for whom Doukas had developed a growing romance.
“He really accepted her for who she was,” said Chan. “She truly loved him.”
On the verge of graduation, with a new job and promising relationship, Doukas drove her father’s Toyota Forerunner into the exit lane on Highway 280 South early Wednesday morning and ran the stop sign at Mariposa. Her vehicle jumped the curb and struck the three-foot, steel guardrails and fell nearly 50 feet back onto the highway.
Her death leaves close friends and family with vivid memories of a smart, funny and often misunderstood woman whose selflessness and artistic vision will be remembered through memories and the scholarship that bears her name.
“I don’t think she ever realized how much love was available to her,” said Chan.
“Under all that wild stuff, she was really a sweet and thoughtful girl.”
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