Obituary of Peter Constantine Zuras
Maj. Peter C. Zuras, USAF (Ret.), beloved husband, father, grandfather, uncle, and cousin, was called to the Lord at the age of 92 to join his parents, sister, son-in-law and granddaughter. He is survived by his wife JoAnn, his three children, Eleni (Tsigas), Stephanie (Kutson) and Dean Zuras, son-in-law Bill, and daughter-in-law Katja, and seven grandchildren: Jordan and Jonathan Tsigas, Constantine, Peter and Catherine Kutson, Melina and Nicholas Zuras. He also leaves behind his nephew, Chris Broussard, his sister-in-law Barbara Schooley, many nieces, nephews and cousins both in the United States and Greece.
He was born in Washington, DC, the son of Constantine and Eleni (Mandes) Zuras, and remained grateful that his parents arrived in America a few months before his birth. Those few months were the difference between an agrarian life in Vourvoura, his ancestral village in Arcadia, Greece, and U.S. citizenship which paved a life of opportunity and service in a country that he loved beyond measure.
His early years were spent in a Washington, DC home shared with his two of his mother’s siblings and their families. He attended Park View Elementary School in the District and Silver Spring Intermediate and Montgomery Blair High school (Class of 1949) in Silver Spring, MD, where his family had – with the help of relatives – bought their first and only home when he was eleven.
Those formative years in Silver Spring had deep influence on the rest of his life. Out of economic necessity, he was driven to tap his creativity and resourcefulness to produce his own toys and pastime activities. His immigrant parents had no inclination to hamper his adventures, even when he stretched the limits of safety or good sense. Veterinary school was ruled out when he injected every medication in his mother’s bathroom into the neighborhood cat as a chemistry experiment. A bike he assembled from old junkyard parts, launched off a bike ramp he constructed at the bottom of the street’s steep hill resulted in his first broken bone. He cleverly convinced his Greek-speaking mother that the “E” on his report card stood for “excellent”, a useful guise to cover his utter lack of interest in traditional schooling, and the very definition of ironic as he spent the rest of his adult life as a voracious reader and learner.
During elementary school his teachers recognized his artistic abilities and “commissioned” him to paint a mural on the classroom walls. It was to be the first of many oil paintings and drawings he completed in his teenage and adult years. His musical abilities also came naturally as, throughout life and to the enchantment of his audiences, he would pick out old songs and ballads by ear on the harmonica, toy accordion, and piano.
It was also during these years, while on a weekend trip to Ocean City, that he came upon two sightseeing seaplanes moored in the water. Convincing his cousin and talking a friend into paying the $2.50 per person charge, they booked a trip. The exhilaration 16-year-old Pete experienced in that short airplane ride influenced the rest of his life.
After high school, he attended the University of Maryland first as a Pharmacy and then Bacteriology major. Admittedly, studying was not his primary focus. Instead, he immersed himself in and became president of the newly formed Flying Club, lettered on the Varsity Rifle Team, and became a member of Sigma Pi fraternity. He would use the meager allowance his parents gave him for meals to pay for flying lessons, earning his pilot’s license in a little over 40 hours and amassing over 230 hours flying the Club’s tiny Piper Cub they purchased for $450.
On a lark, after hearing that the Air Force was building up their Aviation Cadet program, he took a battery of tests during his last year at Maryland just to see how he’d do. He passed with the highest scores across every section of the test. Despite his mother’s concern that she’d never see him alive again, he dropped out of college to accept the Air Force’s offer to join Aviation Cadet Class 55-I, reporting to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, in November 1953. Thus he embarked on a 20-year career as a USAF pilot. He would later complete his undergraduate degree at the University of Maryland extension campus while stationed in Greece.
Pete completed Aviation Cadet, Primary and Basic Training at Lackland AFB, Malden AB and Williams AFB, respectively, where he received his military pilot wings and spent the majority of his Air Force career flying airplanes. He had flying tours with the 86th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (Youngstown, OH), 3555th Flying Training Squadron Perrin AFB (North Texas), 429th Air Refueling Squadron Langley AFB (Hampton, VA), 420th Air Refueling Squadron RAF Sculthorpe (England), Directorate of Flight Test System Command Wright-Patterson AFB (Dayton, OH), 553rd Reconnaissance Squadron Korat Royal Thai AFB (Thailand) and 89th Airlift Wing Andrews AFB (Maryland). He completed a combat tour in Southeast Asia as part of Operation Igloo White, a covert US joint military electronic warfare operation. His rare non-flying assignments were spent at Radar Sites in New Jersey and Ontario Canada and as the Air Operations Officer at Hellinikon AB in Athens, Greece.
He attained over 10,000 flying hours in 23 different aircraft, mostly in the F-86D SabreJet, KB-50J Superfortress, and EC-121R.
In 1962, Peter married JoAnn, the youngest of Chris and Despina Samaras’ four daughters from Staunton, VA and for the next 61 years she was his co-pilot in life, biggest cheerleader, enthusiastically embracing all his endeavors. But it was nearly over before it began. Pete was very shy and their first date was inauspicious at best. It was on their second date to show her the plane he flew at Langley AFB that his humor and personality won her over. His marriage proposal during an airplane ride was a clear foreshadowing of the life she was embarking upon.
Their children were born during tours in England, Greece, and Ohio. The family relocated to the Washington, DC area while Pete completed his tour of duty in Vietnam. Upon his return they ultimately settled in Potomac, MD where they would raise their family.
Pete always felt blessed by the family he married into. He fully embraced the family and felt that love returned tenfold. The brothers-in-law, especially, were legendary in their antics and laughter was omnipresent. Family holidays, vacations and reunions were highly spirited and hysterical.
Following his Air Force retirement in November 1973, Peter embarked on a second career with New York Life Insurance Company that would take him well into the 2000’s. Living by his credo that anything worth doing is worth doing to perfection and driven by his commitment to provide for his family, he overcame his shy personality to succeed in his financial services career. He didn’t “sell insurance”, he created relationships with his clients.
With the encouragement of his first General Manager, Frank Della Penna, and his friends and family, he achieved many successes including winning Man of the Year (an award given yearly to the top producer in the office) in just his second year with New York Life. He earned the Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) and Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) professional designations and was a Life Member of the Million Dollar Round Table, a global organization of the industry’s elite. He also served as the Chairman of the Suburban Maryland Life Underwriter’s Association, Membership Chair of the Maryland State Association of Life Underwriters, and an active member of the National Association of Life Underwriters, always ready to help when asked. In recognition of his long-standing commitment and work at the local and state level he won the Suburban Maryland Harry L. Meyer Award and Maryland State Paul Murphy award.
Outside of his work life, Peter was a member of the American Legion Adelphia Post 38, serving as Commander of the Post and a member of St. George Greek Orthodox Church where he served on the Parish Council and as chairman of several Greek festivals.
Flying did not end with his Air Force retirement. It was part of his identity and by extension his family’s identity. He maintained his status as a certified flight instructor and flew to most industry meetings, often with Jo Ann or colleagues on board. It was a given that flying was the first option when traveling out of town. He was a regular at Montgomery County Airpark and this only increased once the dream that started with his first airplane ride in Ocean City came full circle with the purchase of his airplane, “Charlie Lima,” in 1988.
His wanderlust spirit continued in his post-retirement years with continued trips to insurance meetings, chances to reconnect with many of his military buddies at both TAC Tankers and 55-I reunions, annual February jaunts to Florida to spend time with their sisters and brothers-in-law, a South American cruise with family and friends, several smaller cruises, a trip with Dean to Oshkosh, WI, to the world famous Annual Fly-In, extended trips to both the West Coast to visit the Tsigas family during their twelve years in Portland and San Diego, and to Greece to visit the Kutson family during their four year assignment. Although his stroke in 2015 limited his ability to live as he once had, he continued to look for new things to learn and explore. He loved his time in Florida, was always up for an airshow or an airboat ride on the St. John’s River, read voraciously and loved watching movies and Fox News.
As each of his grandchildren got older, he reveled in doing as much as he could with each of them, helping them with their school and Boy Scout projects, sharing his life experiences with them, engaging in thoughtful conversations, and having them ride along as he created new adventures and stories with and for them.
Pete was funny. Anyone who ever interacted with him experienced his sense of humor and wit. He wasn’t a comedian in the classic sense. He didn’t command a room with his presence, was not the life of the party and rarely told joke after joke. Instead, Pete was an extraordinary storyteller who wove humor throughout his engaging and ever-present stories and life lessons. His favorite audience was his children and grandchildren at the family dinner table.
He will be missed by his family and the many friends he made throughout his life.
Visitation at St. Katherine Greek Orthodox Church, 5965 N. Wickham Road, Melbourne, FL, on Friday, August 18 from 5 to 7 pm with a Trisagion prayer service at 6 pm.
Visitation at Pumphrey’s Funeral Home, 7557 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, MD, on Tuesday, August 22 from 5 to 7 pm with a Trisagion prayer service at 5:30 pm.
The funeral service will be held on Wednesday, August 23 at St. George Greek Orthodox Church, 7701 Bradley Blvd., Bethesda, MD at 11 am, following a viewing from 10 to 11 am. Interment at Arlington National Cemetery will be a later date.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in memory of Peter C. Zuras to St. Katherine’s Cemetery Chapel Fund (www.saint-katherine.org), St. George Greek Orthodox Church (www.stgeorge.org), or the Preeclampsia Foundation (www.preeclampsia.org).To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Peter Zuras, please visit Tribute Store