James Paras became something of an unofficial ambassador at the Maine Veterans’ Home in Scarborough over the past year and a half.

He’d socialize in the halls while holding onto his walker, took part in nearly every activity and considered everyone a friend, from kitchen staff to his fellow World War II veterans.

James Paras Photo courtesy of the Paras family

“He knew everyone and he’d introduce me 8 million times. We’d walk by and he’d say ‘That’s my friend over there.’ He was Mr. Social,” said his daughter, Mari Anne Paraskevas. “I’d go in and people would tell me ‘I love your dad, he’s the greatest.’ He was a real good, kind person.”

Paras, a retired podiatrist and Navy veteran known for his kind nature and pride in his Greek heritage, died April 20 of Lewy body dementia and COVID-19. He was 93.

Paras tested positive for the virus one week before he died, but did not show symptoms until the last few days, according to his family. He is one of 11 people at the home who have died of COVID-19. Another 30 residents and 20 staff members have tested positive, according to the Maine CDC.

Paras was born in 1927 to Greek immigrants Peter and Mary Kantilis Paraskevas. Raised with the name Paraskevas, he attended Thornton Academy before dropping out at 17 to join the Navy during World War II. He returned home to Saco after serving for two years as a plane mechanic in Texas. He graduated from Thornton Academy in 1947 and attended college in Maine and medical school in Chicago.

While Paras was studying to be a podiatrist in the 1950s, he was advised to change his last name because Paraskevas sounded too foreign. Despite the name change, his pride in his Greek heritage never wavered, his daughter said.

Paras shared his culture and religion with Taxia, his wife of 57 years. Taxia Paras, also the child of Greek immigrants, grew up on Long Island and was working as a teacher when she came to Old Orchard Beach for a baptism. She was introduced to Paras, who kept “pestering” her to have him visit her in New York, she said.

“What I found attractive was he was willing to let me be me,” Taxia Paras said. “I didn’t have to change or alter who I was or what I was so he would feel more comfortable.”

James Paras, who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Photo courtesy of the Paras family

After they married, Jim and Taxia Paras settled in Maine and raised their son and daughter in Scarborough. He practiced podiatry in Westbrook and Biddeford for 50 years, working well into his 70s before semi-retiring. After he sold his practice, he would visit nursing homes to provide podiatry care.

Though he was often busy with work, his children said he always made time for them. When his son Peter Paras was young, they would watch the Apollo launches, go to the jetport to see planes and play golf. In his father’s later years, Peter Paras would bring him to doctor’s appointments and they would stop for lunch together on the way home.

“I’ll miss having him around,” Peter Paras said.

Mari Anne Paraskevas said her father was always supportive and proud of his children. When she was around 35, she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer in Boston and lost her hair from chemotherapy

“A few days later, I got a phone call that dad shaved his head to match,” she said.

Paras was social and active well into his 80s, even running 5K races at the Maine and National Senior Olympics. He enjoyed serving drinks at the Greek Festival in Portland, belonging to social clubs and visiting friends. He and his close friend, Arthur Lekouski, were regulars at Tony’s Donuts in Portland.

A few years ago, he began to have cognitive issues and was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia. After he fell and broke his hip, he went to the veterans’ home for rehab and ended up staying. His family said he was happy and well-cared for there.

Paras’s family had not been able to visit him since mid-March, when the home stopped allowing visitors because of the coronavirus outbreak. They talked to him regularly on the phone and on video calls.

Last Friday, Paras began complaining of body pain and was having a little difficulty breathing. He was put on oxygen and by Saturday afternoon had stopped responding to people, his wife said.

On Monday afternoon, Taxia Paras and her two children used Skype to call him one last time hours before he passed away. Someone had turned on music for Paras, who used to love seeing the Big Bands play in Old Orchard Beach.

“We could see him. He was sleeping and breathing normally. Whether he heard us or not, we don’t know,” Taxia Paris said. “He only suffered one day of the three days … it was obvious he wasn’t going to pull out of it. Yes, he did suffer, but the rest of it was very peaceful and very quiet. For that we’re all thankful.”

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