By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The first thing Aida Nicolaou wants you to know is how much she loves the United States.
“I love this country so much. It has given me so many things. America is the greatest country in the world!” she said, over a salad at Gino’s Restaurant.
Nicolaou, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker, came to the U.S. in 1985 from her native Lebanon to escape the devastating civil war taking place at the time. She had four young daughters and spoke almost no English. Her husband Athanase had to stay behind in the Middle East while she struggled to build a new life for the family here in Bay Ridge. He was able to emigrate here later.
Nicolaou did successfully build a good life for herself and her family. She did it through hard work and determination. She got her real estate license, put her daughters through Saint Anselm Catholic School and then Fontbonne Hall Academy, and found an outlet for her generosity at the Saint Nicholas Home, a nursing home on Ovington Avenue.
She is on the Board of Directors at the St. Nicholas Home and serves as president of the ladies’ auxiliary, a fundraising arm of the home.
“I was able to do all of it because of this country and the wonderful things it gave me the chance to do. In this country, you can do anything. But you have to work hard and not take anything from anybody. Don’t sit back and expect things to be given to you. Go out and get them,” she said. “This is a country where, no matter what kind of work you do, you can win respect. Even somebody who cleans the floor is a dignified person because they are a working person.”
Nicolaou became a U.S. citizen in the 1990s. Her love for her country extends to the Republican Party. She has supported and held fundraisers for several GOP elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm and state Sen. Marty Golden.
Nicoloau said she also has a fondness for former congresswoman Susan Molinari. Molinari and her staff helped her and her daughters when they first moved to the U.S., she said.
In 2008, Golden selected Nicoloau as a “Woman of Distinction.” The awards ceremony took place in Albany. Earlier this year, Grimm honored her for Women’s History Month.
But her main focus, aside from her family, is the St. Nicholas Home.
“I love being able to do things for the home. The home is a wonderful place for the old people. I love talking to them and spending time with them. If you treat them like they’re important, they remember you and love you. That means so much to me,” she said.
Nicolaou was named “Woman of the Year” by the board at the St. Nicholas Home in 2006.
Nicolaou was born in Beirut, the youngest of six children of Yacoub and Wadiha Hayek. After she graduated from high school, she attended a pharmacy college and found a job as a product supervisor. She married Athanase Nicolaou in 1969. The couple had four daughters — Nicole, Grace, Carmen and Marlene. Athanase died in 2001.
In the 1980s, Lebanon was torn apart by civil war.
“I had to leave. I wanted to find a safe place for my family. The country wasn’t safe. I was heartbroken. We had a good life there,” she said.
Athanase, who was working in Saudi Arabia, stayed behind in the Middle East while Aida and the girls found refuge in the U.S. The mother and daughters moved to Bay Ridge.
She encouraged her girls to become a part of the Bay Ridge Community, and on the advice of a neighbor, they joined the Bay Ridge Ambulance Volunteer Organization (BRAVO) Youth Squad.
She kept herself busy too, working to become a real estate saleswoman.
“I thought it would be a good way to make a good living to take care of my family. When you need money, you can make miracles happen. I had to take the test for the real estate license twice. I didn’t pass the first time. But I saw a sign at the place that said the test was being given again that same afternoon, so I stayed and took it again,” she said.
It was 1993. She remembers getting the letter in the mail from the school telling her she had passed the test.
The letter informed her that she would receive her real estate license in the mail within a few weeks. But she didn’t have to wait for the arrival of the license to begin work. She was already visiting a real estate office and asking if she needed to wait for the license to apply for a job.
“The lady told me, ‘No, you can start working even if the license isn’t here yet. And by the way, the man standing next to you is looking to rent an apartment. Why don’t you show him the apartment around the corner?’ I showed him the apartment and he took it. That’s how I got started in the real estate business,” Nicoloau said. “I am grateful for all of the opportunities I have had.”