Dr Peter A Neff, DDS, 91, of Washington, DC, left this world peacefully on January 15, 2021. Born Panayiotis Andreas Nafpliotis in Cairo, Egypt in 1929, to parents from Greek islands, he survived typhoid and tuberculosis in his teens to become the pan-Hellenic 100M dash champion at age 20. Later that year, he moved to the US to pursue The American Dream, with $24 and a few English words in his pocket.
He made donuts at the crack of dawn and dug ditches at the local steel mill evenings and weekends to put himself through college in Steubenville, Ohio. From there, he proudly enlisted in the US Marines and became his platoon leader. And from there, to DC to study medicine, which he paid for by waiting tables at DC’s beloved Blackies House of Beef, working for a man who would become one of his dearest friends and mentors. He earned his Masters in biochemistry and microbiology from George Washington University, and his DDS from Georgetown – for the field in which he found his purpose.
He met Iris Bishop Chisholm in 1956 in the crowded Roma Restaurant on Connecticut Ave - each on dates with other people. A mutual friend who happened to be there that night chatted with Iris then saw Panayiotis and said hello. He whispered to her, "Forget this kid I'm here with. I'm going to marry her." Three years later he did.
He soon became Dr Peter Andrew Neff, DDS – achieving full professorship at Georgetown’s dental school faster than anyone in its history, and created and chaired its Department of Occlusion, where he taught thousands of aspiring dentists for decades. He simultaneously served as a professor at Howard University, Temple University and Nova Southeastern University. Dr Neff pioneered in the field of occlusion and prosthodontics, and became the top expert in TMJ dysfunction. He wrote textbooks and lectured all over the world, at a pace that would exhaust most. People from far corners came to him in every kind of pain imaginable – in their head, their back, their walk, suffering years of misery – and he healed them all, whether nuns or royalty, by fixing their bite. For decades he travelled regularly to the middle east to treat his beloved friend, King Hussein of Jordan, his wife Queen Noor, their children, relatives, and government and military officials, and through them he treated Palestinian and Israeli world leaders and their families alike. He also served as a consultant to the US Army and Navy, treating our country’s top leaders.
Dr and Mrs Neff raised two daughters, Theodora (Terri) and Athena, in a DC home that was full of a love of learning, constant curiosity, humility and faith. He was a devout Greek Orthodox who chaired the school board for St Constantine & Helen’s elementary school on Upshur and 16th, which both of his children attended, and was extremely active within the church. When students from around the world came to study under Dr Neff, many lived in his home – some for years at a time, and they too attended Greek church and became family. He had “adopted family” from everywhere – Greece, the Netherlands, Brussels, Chile, Colombia, Brazil – and they carried forth his teachings in their countries. When his daughters – both artistic – would attend his lectures, he would customize his talks to reflect the artistry within the human body, how a mouth is like an architectural structure. He knew how to share his craft with any audience, and was a master storyteller in any of the seven languages he spoke fluently.
Dr Neff was the heart of every party, usually the last to leave. He lived big, prayed big, served big and squandered not a moment. Each morning, he awoke with the sun, prayed on his knees, swam a hundred laps and did 500 pushups, and he maintained a strict diet following the most cutting edge health practices from both Western and Eastern medicine. A near teetotaler (with the exception of a rare shot of ouzo on special occasions), you could always find him on the dance floor, often showing off bellydancing moves from his home country.
Very much a Greek – nearly always seen wearing blue and white, he was also an incredibly proud American – you rarely caught him without a pair of his signature white cowboy boots. Every time he left the country for work or leisure, he returned home to kiss the ground of the place that allowed him to realize his dreams. He believed that through discipline and hard work, anything was possible in America. He even convinced his baby brother George to leave his life in Cairo and move his family to the States, to give them a slice of the dream too. And to give back, he regularly donated his time and treatments to US veterans, and taught at Walter Reed and the VA – even into his 70s and 80s.
In their later years, Dr and Mrs Neff helped to raise their grandchildren, as Papou and Yiayia to Tyler, Pearl, Zachariah and Georgia Bea, whom they loved beyond measure and were forever bonded. When he lost his beloved Iris in 2012, his lights dimmed. He transitioned out of a life of constant service into a much quieter stage. And on Friday, January 15, at the age of 91, he peacefully let go of this world. He regained his mobility, his hands, his hearing, his language, his prodigious mind, his humor and his white cowboy boots, and he found his wife on the Lord’s dance floor.
Dr Neff is survived by his daughters, Terri and Athena (both in the DC area); his grandchildren, Tyler, Pearl and Zachariah (Terri) and Georgia (Athena); nieces, Mary and Rena; cousins, godchildren, extended family and countless dear friends the world over.
Due to the severity of the pandemic, the service will be closed to all but immediate family, but can be virtually attended via livestream on Friday, January 22 at 11:00am EST through Saint Katherine’s Greek Orthodox Church in Arlington, VA at http://www.saint-katherines.org/. Donations, in lieu of flowers, may be made to St Katherine’s here or through their website.
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