Tony “Golden Toe” Kaiafas came to New Jersey from Cyprus to visit his uncle, who attended Drew and encouraged Kaiafas to do the same. At that time, he needed $300 to register for classes, so Kaiafas worked day and night to earn enough money to pay for the fees, and enrolled at Drew in 1956.
Growing up in Cyprus, Kaiafas recalls that there were no sports allowed during the school year (September through June), so he looked forward to playing soccer in the fall semester. “I was flying when I came to Drew and they played soccer,” Kaiafas happily exclaimed.
Kaiafas believes that sports taught him a great deal during his undergraduate years and that it helped shape his character. Having to work late at night and then rising early in the morning for classes and soccer practice instilled a growing appreciation for self-discipline and team-oriented cooperation. To this day, Kaiafas conveys a humble sincerity as he recalls that he was never a “smart aleck or wise guy” and always showed a deep seated respect for his professors, even standing when they entered the classroom. As he remembers his Drew professors, Kaiafas still mentions Prof. Don Jones and considers Joy Phillips, associate professor of zoology, “the best.” She was an expert in zoology and biology and had a strong influence on Kaiafas’ future medical career, providing guidance both in and out of the classroom. “During the four years of my being at Drew University, they [Prof. Phillips and her husband] used to give us a sort of a picnic together with them,” a simple and personal gesture that made a lasting impression.
During his time at Drew, Kaiafas earned many accolades for his on-field accomplishments. While there are unfortunately no official soccer statistics from 1954-1969, there were certainly many unofficial records broken at that time, which were documented by the student newspaper. According to The Acorn, Kaiafas had a record-breaking season in 1957, with five goals in one game and 16 for the season. Following his final season, The Acorn lauded his accomplishments, reporting that, “In his four years he has scored enough goals to possibly put him in the top ten scorers in the country and certainly in the top twenty.”
Kaiafas earned his bachelor of arts in zoology and went on to earn a medical degree in 1965 from the University of Athens School of Health Sciences. He returned not only to the United States, but to Drew’s backyard, for an internship at Morristown Memorial Hospital in general surgery, and later went on to the Hess Urological Foundation at St. Vincent Hospital in Erie, Pa. After completing the requirements of the American Urological Association and passing his boards in Missouri, he returned to Cyprus and opened his own 25-bed clinic. In 1974, he was inconceivably forced out of his Cypriot homeland when a Turkish military invasion overtook the northern third of the nation-state. He and his family escaped with the clothes on their backs and a mere handful of belongings.
Since he was licensed to practice medicine in the U.S., he returned to New Jersey with his wife and three children. With no place to live they were taken in by the same uncle who had advised him to attend Drew years earlier. Shortly thereafter, he found his way to Hackettstown, N.J., where he began his practice and later became President of the Doctors’ Association at Hackettstown Medical Center. Kaiafas always made a point to visit his favorite Drew professor, Joy Phillips, to thank her for the instruction and guidance she had provided him and to reminisce about his time at Drew.
Now in his retirement, Kaiafas and his wife of 49 years, Etta, split time between N.J. and the southern portion of Cyprus where he oversees the many businesses he owns and manages several of his real estate holdings. The division and occupation of Cyprus continues to this day through the presence of 45,000 Turkish troops, making it one of the most densely militarized zones in the world. Kaiafas continues to work tirelessly behind the scenes with the federal decision makers, the international community and the International Court of Human rights to bring resolution to the decades old division of his native Cyprus.
Kaiafas has always been proud of his Drew experience and shares that pride with his children, two of whom are also Drew alumni. His son, Costas C’89, played soccer and basketball for Drew, and daughter, Zacharoulla C’93, played soccer, basketball and softball (with a small taste of lacrosse). And while daughter Elena’s path did not lead her to The Forest, she was also a successful student-athlete, playing basketball for Upsala College. Kaiafas enjoys spending time with his “eight grandchildren who are all girls,” and coming to campus whenever he has the opportunity. “Drew University was my love,” he fondly recalls.