Obituary: Dr. Thomas P. Nigra

HIGHLAND BEACH — Distinguished dermatologist Dr. Thomas P. Nigra died March 21 from heart failure. He was 80.
The creator — and, for 43 years, chairman — of the Department of Dermatology at the
Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., he conducted pioneering clinical research on minoxidil as a treatment for hair loss and on the use of phototherapy for the treatment of a variety of skin disorders, including psoriasis.
10249013880?profile=RESIZE_180x180A winner of that institution’s Gold-Headed Cane Award for a doctor who has “demonstrated the highest standards of scientific excellence and integrity,” Dr. Nigra mentored hundreds of residents and fellows in the residency program he initiated in the 1980s. He also diagnosed the first case of Kaposi sarcoma, often a manifestation of AIDS, in the Washington metropolitan area.
Apart from the hospital, he maintained a private practice at his historic house in Georgetown, using the same detached professional office Dr. Joshua Riley, a highly regarded 19th-century physician, built and used as a clinic and school for medical students.
Although The Washington Post once described Dr. Nigra’s practice there as one of “dowagers and diplomats,” it included many patients who were unable to pay and for whom he provided his services gratis. For, “above all, he believed in the Hippocratic oath,” observed his son, Peter, a dermatologist.
Tom Nigra also believed in fun, hospitality and sportsmanship. With his irrepressible smile, impish wit and inexhaustible gusto, he was as at home on horseback in the hunting field or shooting pheasant in England or dove on Maryland’s Eastern Shore as he was in a laboratory or in front of a stove, concocting original recipes.
Once, a moment after having been handed his drink at a party, he was approached by a woman with a rash. “I never diagnose while drinking,” he told her. “Come to my office tomorrow.”
A resident of Highland Beach, Dr. Nigra was born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and was a graduate of both St. Vincent’s School and St. Vincent’s College there.
He received his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, following which he completed: his internship in internal medicine (under Senior Resident Dr. Anthony Fauci) at New York-Bellevue Hospital in New York City; his residency in dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston; and Berry Plan service at the National Institutes of Health.
A keen collector of fine arts, but, most of all, of friends, he was an enthusiastic and generous host. He was a member of the Clinical Pathological Society, the Washington Investors, and the Alibi, Ausable, Chesapeake Bay Yacht, Chevy Chase, and Metropolitan clubs.
Dr. Nigra is survived by his wife of more than 51 years, the former Jane Brawley; a sister, Susan Nigra Snyder (who still recalls that, when she was a newborn, her brother, then age 7, attempted to flush her feet-first down the toilet); his son, Peter (Meaghan K. Nelan), and daughter, Jane H. Gallina (Parham Ranjbar), and five grandchildren.
A service of thanksgiving for the life of Thomas P. Nigra was held at Christ Church Georgetown on March 30. The family requests that friends make gifts in his memory to charities of their choice.

— Obituary submitted by the family

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