Peter J. Garfall

October 7, 1942 ~ April 13, 2021 (age 78)


It is with a profound sense of loss that we announce the passing of beloved husband, father, and friend, Peter Jules Garfall. Peter died during the second year of the coronavirus pandemic but not of the virus. Peter died due to an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm that existed as a time bomb in his body, which exploded on March 21, 2021, causing complete devastation to all of his vital systems. He fought for 23 long days to make his way back to his family, but he had suffered such horrific damage that recovery proved impossible. On the 13th of April, Peter passed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston with his wife and two sons by his side. 

Peter was born on October 7, 1942, the son of the late Jules Garfall and Mary Velardi Garfall of Johnstown, N.Y. As a young boy, Peter contracted polio in Spring Lake, N.J. prior to the Salk vaccine. He was hospitalized in an iron lung at age five at a time in history when visitors, including parents, were limited in polio wards. After numerous surgeries and treatments over the following years, Peter recovered sufficiently to be removed from his iron lung.  He returned home, where his parents arranged for him to do physical therapy in Johnstown's YMCA pool where he became a strong swimmer and developed his talent for and love of SCUBA diving.

Peter transitioned from working at his father's leather goods factory in Johnstown, N.Y. to moving to Cambridge, MA. in the mid 1960's to work at Boston's New England Aquarium (NEA). By 1970, Peter's diving skills and keen intellect led him to become head diver and large specimen collector for the NEA and earned him the NEA 1970-71 Diver of the Year award. In an interview at that time, Peter described his love for and knowledge of swimming with multiple shark species as good for "honing his acute survival instincts."  Peter compared his daily NEA shark tank dives to a Formula One race car driver's keen attunement to his racing car machine's sounds and performance to avoid death and injuries. By 1972, Peter became the curatorial supervisor of NEA specimens and an expert in starfish whose limbs could regenerate, a relevant topic for a polio survivor.

During his tenure at NEA, Peter came to the attention of Dr. Barry Fell, a Harvard professor of invertebrate zoology and leading staff member of Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology. Peter worked with Dr. Fell and became a founding fellow of the Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications (ESOP). He later served as ESOP's Vice President and was on their Board of Directors until the society’s dissolution in 2016. While employed by Dr. Fell, Peter travelled nationally and internationally to Libya and Egypt participating in research, providing photographs for, and collaborating with Dr. Fell on books titled: Life, Space, and Time: A Course in Environmental Biology (1974); America Before Columbus (1976); Saga America (1980); and Bronze Age America (1982). Dr. Fell dubbed Peter "the tzar of all cameras," and Peter obtained at least one patent for his invention of a photographic light box in 1975. 

In 1976, Peter opened up a construction company in Somerville, MA, which he later moved to Peabody, MA in the mid 90’s. Over the 40 years his company was in existence, Peter’s love of making things better can be seen across the thousands of residential and commercial construction projects he completed. One is hard pressed to travel more than a mile in the Greater Boston area without passing a home or residence he improved.

In 1984, Peter met Virginia McDonald, the love of his life, and they were married on May 28, 1989 in Cambridge, MA. Between 1988-1993 if you attended a Matignon High School sporting event, you likely saw Peter, with his signature cowboy hat taking photos of the players. Rather than simply watch his sons, Tony and Zev play sports, he was an active participant, ensuring every member of the team had a picture of their efforts. Peter also always had his EMT bag ready to wrap a bruised knee or ankle. Many of players also enjoyed some of the epic meals Peter would cook during the season, and some even took part-time employment with his construction company in the summers and after graduation.
Throughout his life and no matter where he went, Peter had an incredible ability to bring light and energy to any place he entered.  The small business owners of Belmont, Watertown, and Peabody will miss his friendship, humor, and smiles he brought them during his visits. From bank teller to waiter, from Senator to salesclerk, Peter saw and valued everyone he met.

In his later years, Peter preferred to spend time with his wife walking outdoors, having picnics, and cooking and sharing meals with family and close friends. He also loved investing time in his grandchildren, with whom he shared his love of nature, art, history, and the world. Peter really lived.  
Peter is survived by his beloved wife, Virginia Garfall, of Belmont, MA; his son Anthony (Tony) Garfallo and his family: w. Kelly and their children Madisyn, Shea, and Victoria (Tori) of Northern Virginia; and his son Zev and his family: w. Debra and their children Noah and Joanna of Arlington, MA. He is also survived many loving cousins, devoted friends, his loving nephew Jay Garfall, and his estranged brother John Garfall of Colorado.

For the Garfall Grandchildren & Godchildren

Our Grandpa was a tall man,
He stood up 12 feet high.
And when he put his hat on,
It snagged up with the sky.

His eyes were melting chocolate brown,
His hair shone silver light,
Then when he tired of daytime,
He yawned it into night.

His stories brought us wondrous dreams
His voice so kind and sure
He gave us love to guide us
And will forever more

A memorial service shall be held outdoors in the summer or fall as pandemic protocol allows. In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to Oceana or The John Ritter Foundation for Aortic Health.                     


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