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Passing the Torch

Lisa Vouras, D89, honors the father she followed into dentistry by establishing a student prize fund in his name

For Father's Day, Lisa Vouras, D89, wanted to let her dad know just how important he has been in her life. Their relationship is as much mentor and mentee as it is father and daughter—she grew up in the dental practice Peter Vouras, D55, ran for nearly 40 years.

"What do you get someone who gave you life, your education, and in whose footsteps you followed?" said Vouras. The gift, she decided, needed to symbolize that passing of the torch from one generation to the next.

On Father's Day last year, Vouras gave her dad a framed certificate commemorating the Peter Vouras Jr., D.M.D., D55, Endowed Senior Prize for Excellence in General Dentistry, which she established at Tufts School of Dental Medicine in his honor. It brought him to tears.

The annual award will go to a graduating D.M.D. student who has demonstrated exceptional proficiency in general dentistry. "When he realized the meaning behind the gift, he was very touched," said Lisa, who described her father as a humble, unassuming man.

Peter Vouras was just 13 when he left a small village outside of Sparta, Greece, to come to the United States. Right out of high school, he joined the military to serve in World War II. The GI Bill helped pay for college and dental school. After graduating from Tufts, he opened his practice in Meriden, Connecticut—only to see his dreams and his office go up in flames in a freak fire six months later.

He remained undeterred in building a good life for his family. He and his wife, Dena, salvaged some instruments from the rubble and rebuilt the office in record time. His practice flourished.

"He is very much a people person and enjoyed interacting with patients," said Lisa. "There was a lot of levity. He made everybody feel like they weren't at the dentist."

Growing up, she liked being in the office, too. "He would set up a Bunsen burner for me, and I would play with the dental wax."

She started working in her father's office when she was in high school, helping out with the billing. Later, when she was toying with the idea of going into "the family business," she trained as a dental hygienist to determine whether she had the skills to cut it as a dentist; she spent two summers as the hygienist in his office before applying to Tufts.

"Picking Tufts was a no-brainer," Vouras said. "My father loved showing me around the school when we came to Boston for reunions and dental conferences."

She's modeled her career after his—he practiced for more than 40 years at the same office in Connecticut; she's owned her general dentistry practice in Reading, Massachusetts, for 20 years. She's followed her father into professional advocacy work, having served as a trustee of the Massachusetts Dental Society and as general chair of the Yankee Dental Congress, among other roles. She's a member of the board of advisors to Tufts School of Dental Medicine and is a former president of the Tufts University Dental Alumni Association.

The Peter Vouras prize fund is part of the tradition. "This gift is dentist to dentist, from one professional to another," said Lisa Vouras. "It's going to go on in perpetuity, so my father's legacy will continue on." She wants the gift to serve another purpose, too: "I hope that the recipient is inspired to pass on a love for dentistry to the next generation, especially at Tufts."