COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) — “Just a minute,” Daisy Poros said as she answered the knock on her door, trying to turn off her alarm. When her efforts failed, the alarms began to sound, a series of loud beeps and sirens that had her frantically fiddling with the controller to no avail.
“I just got this,” she said over the din. “They tell me what to do. But I want to do what I want to do. I’m trying to get rid of this thing. I want my money back.”
You get the strong impression that she will, too.
At age 94, Poros remains remarkably independent. For her, the coronavirus, which has killed so many older Americans is, above all else, an irritation, a disruptor of her routine.
“Right now, I’ve decided to read Yanis Varoufakis,” said Poros, who immigrated to the U.S. from native Greece in 1958. “He’s a Greek economist and philosopher. I was thinking if I go to Greece, I can meet him and his wife. His wife is a painter and she’s very good. I like whatever I read from him. I thought I could do that. Now, with the coronavirus and everything, it is not possible.”
COVID-19 has affected her in other ways, too.
Until March, a nursing student from Mississippi University for Women came in to help with the cleaning and cooking at her home on College Street, just across the street from campus.
“I am very slow now, very slow,” she said. ”... Now with the coronavirus, I don’t want to have anyone in the house. It takes me a long time. I think I want to be familiar with economics and philosophy, but I don’t read as much as I want to because I have to cook and I have to clean the house.”
She hasn’t allowed anyone inside her home since the arrival of the virus, not even her son, John Poros, an architecture professor at Mississippi State.
“I have to stay out here on the porch,” he said. “No one goes in the house.”
Even at 94, Daisy is used to making her own decisions.
She still drives, mostly around town but sometimes as far away as West Point. She also keeps up with news on her iPhone and tablet. Aside from the alarm system, she’s comfortable with modern technology.
“She’s always been really independent,” John said. “I think one of the reasons she’s able to do all the things she does at her age is because she hasn’t given up thinking she can take care of herself. She doesn’t think she needs much help, so she doesn’t.”
The sense of independence was a key factor in Daisy’s decision to come to the United States to pursue her master’s degree in mathematics even though she didn’t speak a word of English.
“In Greece, we learned French in school, so my plan was to go to Paris to get my master’s, but I had an uncle -- my father’s brother -- who lived in the United States,” she said. “He said to me, ‘Why (don’t) you come to the United States? I will help you.’”
With that assurance, Daisy left her home and moved to Boston, enrolling in the master’s program at Boston University. As soon as she arrived, she reached out to her uncle.
“I said to him, ‘You said you would help me. Now I am here,’” Daisy recalled. “He said, ‘I did help you. I got you your ticket.’”
Left to her own devices, Daisy never wavered.
“The math was not difficult,” she said. “It was the language that was the hard part.”
A MATH WIZ
Math was always pretty simple for her, she admitted.
“We lived in a small village, 700 people,” she said. “In our school, we only had three teachers. The teachers would teach two (grades) at the same time. The teacher would give one grade work to do and teach the other grade.
“I would do the work the teacher gave my grade very quickly so I could listen to what she was telling (the higher grade),” she added. “I did that for three years.”
By the time she reached high school, Daisy was the first to respond when her math teacher posed a question.
“He thought I was getting lessons because I knew all the answers.” she recalled.
After graduating high school, she enrolled at the University of Athens in 1949.
“There were just three girls in the class and they didn’t like us being there very much,” she said. “But we did well.”
After two years of teaching high school, Daisy moved to the U.S., finishing her master’s degree and eventually marrying a Greek student she had first met in Athens.
Even before finishing her master’s program, Daisy caught the attention of the employers, working summers at Honeywell, which led to a full-time job.
She and her husband, Demetrius, also a mathematician, moved to Silver Springs, Maryland as they pursued their careers.
Daisy worked at the Johns Hopkins Applied Science Lab, where she worked on both Voyager II and the Space Shuttle in 1976, then moved to NASA for a position at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. She retired in 1995.
She joined John in Mississippi, five years after he accepted his position at MSU.
“I like it here,” Daisy said. “It’s quiet. I found this house that I like and I could pay for it with my money and don’t have to pay every month. ... The other thing is everything is 10 minutes (away).”
Although retired, Daisy still keeps up with NASA, including its recent joint venture with Elon Musk’s company, the SpaceX program.
She is not impressed, however.
“NASA is not really active like it was when I was working,” she said. “I don’t like that they are working with a private company. The only thing the company wants is money. When I was working, people from all over the world would come and were excited about what we were doing. I never had anyone say, ‘How much does it cost?’ It was about science, what we were doing. I think they are losing that excitement now.”
As for her ability to remain independent, Daisy attributes it to two things.
“I don’t take any medicines,” she said. “I take a baby aspirin to help me sleep. That is the only thing.
“The other thing that works for me is to enjoy things -- enjoy the flowers, enjoy the things I have in my home, enjoy sitting in my chair and reading,” she added. “All those things, they help me.”