'Dr. Mary,' as she is affectionately called by her patients, possesses the gifts of healing and compassion.
She's passionate about her work as a chiropractor, and her calling is helping others. Why? Because her practice doesn't just help patients, it helps her heal from a lot of loss in her life. Dr. Mary Jean Negri is a chiropractor. She started out as a nurse, has lost five of her siblings, and her husband died, suddenly, leaving her not only in charge of her practice but Friendly's restaurants in Newton and Wantage. Dr. Negri epitomizes the word 'overcomer' and manages to balance it all.
“I have worked very hard to get where I'm at,” she said. “Especially between the restaurants and my office.”
Dr. Negri graduated from the University of Tennessee with a Bachelor of Science in nursing. She worked at St. Barnabas Medical Center on the orthopedic floor but something didn't gel.
“I just didn't like the work,” she said. “It was my father who encouraged me to go to chiropractic school.”
Growing up as one of seven kids, Negri said the large family often became even bigger at meal time.
“If people came to our house and we were having dinner with all of us around the table, my dad would say to them, 'sit down and eat,'” she said. “My father and mother were truly great people. My father was a giver and we would go into the Bowery in the city and he would bring homeless people to our table to have breakfast with us. He would never give them money because he said they would buy alcohol with it, but he would always feed them.”
She went to Palmer College of Chiropractic and graduated in 1982 at which time, she worked with her sister, Dr. Susan Villerreal until she opened her own office, Lafayette Hilltop Chiropractic Center, in 1985.
“It [the location] was just meant to be,” Dr. Negri said. “My husband and I found the property, my dad came and looked at it and it was just perfect for access for patients plus there was a house on the property where we lived for many years.”
Over the years, Dr. Negri has learned many things to help people with many modalities including laser, massage, ultrasound therapy and traction therapy. Her staff is tried and true, including Barbara Iliff, who has been one of her front desk staff for 29 years and her office manager, Kortney McCullough, has been with her for 10.
As to other area chiropractors, she said, “They aren't my competition, they're my colleagues. It's all about promoting chiropractic and all of the good it can do.”
Dr. Negri specializes in back pain, neck pain, headaches, auto injuries, work injuries and sports injuries. She said the laser is extremely helpful in cases of neuropathy and that patients come to her both when they are sick or hurt as well as for wellness care. She's a firm believer in education, and to this end, two of her staff members, Jessica Stonebridge and Elaine Stephens, just completed a program and became licensed chiropractic assistants.
“This is the first time it's been offered in New Jersey, and they are going to be two of the first licensees ,” Dr. Negri said.
Both are also licensed massage therapists.
Negri's world suddenly changed in 2013 when her husband unexpectedly died leaving her the two Friendly's restaurants he owned.
“Overnight, I was in charge of the restaurants and that's not an easy business,” she said. “I'm very grateful to my children for helping run them. In the beginning, it was a whirlwind and things were out of balance, but it was my practice that ended up balancing me. It was through helping others heal that I could heal myself.”
She has four children, and two of them are fully involved in running the restaurants. The other two are engineers. One lives nearby and also helps with the restaurants.
“They grew up in the restaurant business,” she said. “My husband owned Papa Roni's years ago. He taught them they had to work hard for what they wanted.”
When it comes to the restaurants, Negri has integrated car cruises at the Newton Friendly's. Once it warms up, look for the Rodfather Gang will hold a cruise on Saturday afternoons from 3 pm to sunset. The Corvette Club will hold a cruise (all cars welcome, not just Corvettes) the second and fourth Friday of the month.