By Steven J. Smith
MANALAPAN — A “Renaissance man” has both wide interests and expertise in several areas. Yet such a description fails to capture the full scope of Christos Papatheodorou and the extraordinary life he lived.
Mr. Papatheodorou’s wife, Noreen, described him as “a universal man” who was curious and interested in life’s myriad aspects. His daughter, Mara Berkeley, said he was “fascinated by cultures and politics.”
Born in Greece in 1927, Mr. Papatheodorou graduated from Athens Medical School in the early 1950s. Following a stint in the Greek army, he came to New York in 1954 for his specialty training in neurosurgery. He did postgraduate work at the New York University School of Medicine and Mount Sinai Medical Center. He and Noreen married in 1959.
“He had fellowships in England and Sweden in neurosurgery,” his wife said said. “When we returned to the United States, we lived in New York for six months before moving to Los Angeles, where he practiced neurosurgery for 20 years at UCLA Medical Center. He was a professor in the medical school and was chief of neurosurgery at St. Mary’s Hospital, one of the teaching hospitals there.”
In 1980, Mr. Papatheodorou was hurt in a train accident, which forced him to change his career path. While recovering from his injuries, he got a degree in public health at the UCLA School of Public Health. From there he went into the field of international health planning and development.
“He did a great deal of work in the Middle East and Egypt in the 1980s,” his wife said. “He worked with the World Health Organization, where he organized postgraduate training for overseas physicians. He also developed overseas health programs for Westinghouse Corporation’s employees, working in their overseas projects. In addition, he went to Harvard Medical School to coordinate special projects, focusing on the international sphere.”
In 1986 the family moved to Washington, D.C., where Mr. Papatheodorou served as health science director for the U.S. Treasury Department in Saudi Arabia.
“He was still an established surgeon and he had that knowledge,” his daughter said. “But now he had the public health administrative ability, which made him quite unique. He was a European, so he was able to deal with foreign cultures and their mentality, and helped to develop solid international hospital programs.”
Drawn to Florida’s warm climate, the Papatheodorous bought a winter home in Manalapan, which became their permanent home by the mid-1990s.
“We decided we would retire here, but actually we didn’t retire,” his wife said. “Chris continued doing planning and development consultant work for Westinghouse and the Treasury Department.”
“He was helping countries that needed more modern hospital administration, technology and surgical procedures,” his daughter said. “He advised them on what they could do to set hospitals up and bring them into the 21st century.”
An eloquent speaker, Mr. Papatheodorou was invited to give talks on topics such as health policy, the European Union, the World Health Organization and the Olympics.
“He was a complete and utter Olympics nut,” his daughter laughed. “His dad took him from Greece to Berlin, Germany, in 1936 where he saw Jesse Owens compete. He loved track, and with his photographic memory, he knew all the records. He was a proud Greek when he came to the Olympics, because Greece always walked in first. In the course of his lifetime, he personally attended five or six Olympic games.”
Mr. Papatheodorou died on Dec. 30 at age 87 from the complications of kidney failure. Noreen, Mara, his son Andreas, Mara’s husband, Jim Berkeley, and a grandson, Theo, survive him.
“The world was a very small place to him and that’s his legacy that I hope to pass on,” his daughter said.
“He was never boring,” his wife added. “And he was always kind. He loved people. He always had a twinkle in his eye.”