Cover photo for S. Michael  Komives's Obituary
S. Michael  Komives Profile Photo
1936 S. 2023

S. Michael Komives

November 23, 1936 — April 3, 2023



     When Mike Komives died recently, he was in his prime. He had vowed he would work until the end; he sent his last work email from the hospital. He was 86 years old.

     Komives, who spent three decades years in Chapel Hill helping hundreds of people find meaningful work, passed away peacefully at UNC Medical Center on Monday, April 3.

     For the last 18 years, he worked as a jobs adviser and coach for people searching for work or exploring a new career. He taught courses in Job Search Strategy at Durham Technical Community College; worked with the Orange County Department of Aging, where his title was ‘Champion of Elders’; and founded the Jobs Network ministry at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Chapel Hill.

     His greatest joy was connecting personally with every person he met. His passion was helping others find theirs.

     He loved chocolate chip ice cream from Graeter’s in Cincinnati, coffee ice cream from Maple View Farm in Hillsborough, black coffee from Caribou on Franklin Street, the NYT crossword puzzle. He listened to classical recordings by Hungarian-born conductor Antal Doráti, and kept Paul Simon’s Graceland on repeat-play in the car. You never saw him in jeans. He loved sunsets. At Elmo’s, he would order a milkshake before he was even taken to his table. He looked sharp and always carried a handkerchief. He played piano by ear. If there was a softball game he’d be on the mound. On his birthdays there were always two lemon merengue pies—one for him, one for everyone else. His favorite reading was name badges.

     Stephen Michael Komives was born in Detroit, Michigan, on November 23, 1936, the fifth child of Laszlo Istvan and Valerie Marianne Komives. He was known as Mickey the baby brother who wore knickers and an ever-present smile on his face. His parents stressed academics and musicianship. When his sister, Judy, introduced him to Detroit pro sports, Mike fell into a lifelong love affair with the Red Wings and Tigers. He kept a transistor radio tucked under his pillow to track the exploits of Gordie Howe and Al Kaline each night.

     He attended Gesu Catholic School and the University of Detroit Jesuit High School.

     He met Gail Taylor Dawson at a Sunday night youth dance. She managed to get in front of him and just stay there. The next week he called and offered her a ride to another dance, and off they went on a journey of seven decades. “Mike always had a way of 

knowing where I was, and being there,” Gail said of their courtship. “He would always show up.”

     While in college, he and Judy cobbled together $150 to buy a flimsy car with paper-thin floorboards. He’d drop off Judy in the morning, then later would go to find Gail and take her on dates, often with her younger brother, Jim, in tow in the backseat. “I’m not sure why I was there,” Jim said. “I was 8; I wasn’t a chaperone. But they’d bring me along.”

     Judy, meanwhile, was left to find her own way home after classes.

     Jim saw Mike more as an older brother than his sister’s boyfriend. And Mike took every opportunity to ingratiate himself to the family. He taught Jim to toss a baseball and play street hockey in the winter, and built a basketball hoop in the backyard that refused to stand up straight. “I think maybe the first time he saw Gail he thought ‘I’m going to marry her,’ ” Jim said. “It was obvious. He wasn’t ever going to give up.”

     Mike and Gail were married in Detroit in 1961, remaining husband and wife for the ensuing 62 years.

     A patriot, he served in the U.S. Army, doing his 6 months basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in the Missouri Ozarks. and spent seven summers in the Army Reserve at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia in the years preceding Vietnam. “Our parents were from Hungary, and spoke Hungarian to each other, “ Judy explained. “But they told us, ‘We are Americans, you children are Americans.’ ”

    Michael’s father, Laszlo, was an electrical engineer who emigrated from Hungary to Detroit in 1924 and spent his professional life at the Ford Motor Company and the utility Detroit Edison. He hoped one of his sons would become an engineer. It fell to Mike, who majored in science and was good at math, but not that kind of math. He instead pursued a career in marketing. He earned his MBA from the University of Detroit. He missed the graduation ceremony because he became a father on graduation day. He was a devout and consummate family man: Mike and Gail raised five children together.

     He worked at Proctor & Gamble in Cincinnati, then at prominent ad agencies in the Midwest including J.Walter Thompson, Clinton E. Frank, Darcy McManus, and Howard, Merrell & Partners in Raleigh. When he was offered marketing swag from work, he would say, “Give me five or give me none” — he never came home without something for everyone. He carved out one-on-one adventures with his children. He would take one child to see the Bears at Soldier Field, and another to a hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Wherever their interests lay, he would find it and cultivate it. And then he would pile all the kids into the station wagon and, in the days before seat belts, slide them around the back seat on the windy roads near Lake Michigan.

     He was a devout Catholic. Starting in grade school, he would attend Mass every morning. “He stayed with it and found strength there,” Judy said. When he moved to North Carolina in 1992, he discovered that Catholic Mass wasn’t said daily in the churches. He researched the Mass schedule of every church in Raleigh so he could attend a service every morning.

He came to North Carolina having recently become a grandfather, and relished the role. His glove compartment, aka, the candy shop, was always stocked with treats for the road. When it came to his seven grandchildren, the word ‘No’ was not in his vocabulary.

     Then 18 years ago he found himself at an inflection point in his life. He was not one to walk alone. But on this day, on a windswept beach at Topsail, he felt compelled. As dusk fell, he paced, thought, grappled, prayed, wondered, listened. He would later say he felt the Holy Spirit. So he gathered his life’s gifts and lessons—lessons of persistence, positivity, purpose—and shared them out, to hundreds of people, through jobs ministries and networks. He devoted the rest of his life to encouraging and guiding others to discover work they not only enjoyed, but work that that gave meaning.“He touched a lot of lives,” said Ben Freeman, territory services manager at Red Hat, a software company in Raleigh. “I met him about 8 years ago, after I lost my job. It was the first time in my career I ever lost a job. He went out of his way to make me feel like, ‘This is a good thing you’re going through, there’s a reason for it.’ ”

     “I came here from Burma, I just grabbed at whatever job I could find, just to do what we could to survive,” said Dorothy Win, of Mebane, who discovered that her passion lay in the medical field and became a patient service coordinator. “He was the only person to ever ask me, ‘What do you want to do? What will make you happy in your life?’ He was so kind and he inspired me and changed my life. He always guided me with sincerely positive advice. It is the greatest blessing I have ever had.”

     Mike Komives is survived by his wife, Gail Komives, of Carrboro; his sister, Judy Martinek, of Bloomfield Hills, MI; his five children, Valerie Mary Komives (Orton) of Carrboro; Peter James Komives of Washington, D.C., Christopher Michael Komives of Studio City, CA; Stephen Douglas Komives of Orlando, FL; and David Laszlo of Vaasa, Finland; and seven grandchildren.

     He was preceded in death by his brothers Peter Laszlo Komives; John Louis Komives; and Paul Joseph Komives.

     The weekend before he died, he had a final conversation with Judy. He told her, “I love you and I know I’m going to be fine, I’m going home in a day or two.”

     Services will be held on Tuesday, May 2, at 10 a.m. at St. Thomas More Church, Chapel Hill.

     Please consider a donation to Dress for Success 

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of S. Michael Komives, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services


Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Starts at 10:00 am (Eastern time)

St. Thomas More Catholic Church

940 Carmichael Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27514

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