Atlanta‘s honorary consul general of the Czech Republic, George Novak, received the republic’s Medal of Merit First Class during ceremonies held Oct. 28 at the Prague Castle celebrating the 96th anniversary of Czechoslovakia.
Milos Zeman, the Czech Republic’s president, decorated Mr. Novak, along with 30 others, in the castle’s medieval Vladislavsky Hall for his long-term services on behalf of the republic.
Sir Nicholas Winton, often referred to in the British press as the “British Schindler” for organizing the rescue of 669, mostly Jewish, children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II, also was honored. In an operation that came to be called the Kindertransport, Mr. Winton, who now is 105 years old, arranged for the safe passage of the children to Britain.
Franz Vranitsky, the Austrian chancellor from 1986-97, was honored as were Sir Winston Churchill and Josef Toufar, a Catholic priest, who was tortured to death by the communist State Security in 1950, both in memoriam.
The ceremony took place on the republic’s national day in remembrance of the declaration of independence of Czechoslovakia in 1918 from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. On Jan. 1 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully dissolved, becoming the independent states of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Mr. Novak has been a leader of the Czech community since his appointment as the republic’s honorary consul in Atlanta in 1992. His designation was elevated to honorary consul general in 2002.
As a member of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, Mr. Novak has participated in numerous seminars in Europe promoting Georgia, served as a member of the advisory board of the German American Chamber of Commerce of the South, led the founding group of the Belgian American Chamber, and served four years as the attaché of the Czech Olympic Committee for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
While attache, he met Vaclav Havel, who served as the last president of Czechoslovakia, 1989-92, and the first president of the Czech Republic 1993-2003. Mr. Novak also was one of only six Czechs in the U.S. to be present when Mr. Havel received in 2003 the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom from former President George W. Bush.
Following four years with the Southwire Co. in Carrolton, where he first worked when he came to the U.S., he spent 12 years with the Robert Co. in Atlanta. In 1983 he founded a construction management consultancy, providing services to mostly foreign and predominantly German industrial clients.
In 2002 he became a consultant to Gleeds, a worldwide U.K. project consultancy firm with headquarters in London.
Mr. Novak received his master’s degree in architectural engineering in 1956 in the Czech city of Brno where he was captain of what he terms “the legendary” basketball team of Spatak ZJS Brno.
The morning of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia on Aug. 21, 1968, Mr. Novak escaped in his car to Austria with his son Mike. Then a couple of days later he returned by train to his hometown of Brno to take his wife Jana out of the country.
Together they took a bus to Vienna a couple days later where they stayed with friends. It was iin Vienna that an employee of Southwire visited him with a list of 32 job openings in Atlanta area. The list was given to four immigration agencies and eventually six Czech refugees, including Mr. Novak, came to Southwire to take the offered jobs.
He remains an avid sportsman enjoying both tennis and skiing. He also has been a sponsor of performances by Czech artists in Atlanta.
He is married to Jana Marie Novak and his son, Mike, currently resides in the Czech Republic.
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