Tribute to Peggy: RDH author listened to memories of dental hygiene leader

March 7, 2016
On February 25, 2016, Lory Laughter, RDH, attended a memorial service for one of the giants in the dental hygiene profession. Dr. Margaret "Peggy" Walsh possessed a passion for dental hygiene research surpassed by none and a dedication to education that inspired all she touched.

Dr. Walsh congratulates graduates after ceremony.

By Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, MS

On February 25, 2016, I attended a memorial service for one of the giants in our profession. Dr. Margaret "Peggy" Walsh possessed a passion for dental hygiene research surpassed by none and a dedication to education that inspired all she touched.

I first learned of Dr. Walsh during my undergraduate years at Idaho State University. Her name came up more than once in our research course and appeared in a few of my searches in the periodical stacks. I first got to meet her in 2015 when I enrolled in the master’s of science in dental hygiene at The University of California San Francisco. Professor, mentor, and researcher barely touch the surface as ways she impacted my life.

Memories shared at service

As I listened to friends, family, and colleagues highlight her accomplishments, it became very clear Dr. Walsh had this same influence on all she met.

Peggy's brother, Joseph, told us how she had five articles accepted for publication in one year to fulfill tenure requirements—a feat unimaginable by most. Dr. Walsh started a DH program from scratch in Middletown, N.Y. (Orange County Community College), and then returned to California to continue in her education roles.

Dr. Featherstone, dean of the School of Dentistry at UCSF, shared his admiration of Dr. Walsh's successful grant writing. Dr. Walsh invited him to write a chapter in dental hygiene theory and practice on caries prevention that was the first chapter on CAMBRA in a dental hygiene textbook.

Dr. Walsh poses with Barbara Heckman (far right) with master's degree candidates.

Dr. Walsh was given the first tenure track assistant professor position offered to an RDH at UCSF. Tenured in 1985, she reached full professor in 1991 and continued to advance to one of the highest-ranking professors in the School of Dentistry. Barbara Heckman, RDH, MS, told how she first met Peggy in 1978 at UCSF while both were waiting for an interview. They became fast friends who bonded professionally through educational roles and personally through shopping. Barbara shared that the MS graduates at UCSF are Dr. Walsh's living legacy. We all strive hard to live up to that honor.

READMaria Perno Goldie’s tribute to Dr. Walsh

Denise Bowen, RDH, MS, spoke of meeting Peggy at the first ADHA research council meeting. They became collaborators and friends. Dr. Walsh was one of the most prolific scholars with over 100 scientific articles published and unmatched grant funding. Among her many awards and accolades, Dr. Walsh received the 2014 Esther Wilkins Lifetime Achievement Award.

Stuart Gansky and Jana Murray both worked on research teams with Dr. Walsh and spoke of her meticulous attention to detail. She was known to push deadlines, but only because she was sure there was one more important piece of information to include. She was a wonderful storyteller and turned every learning situation into a positive moment. Dr. Walsh encouraged those around her to live in the present and enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

Dr. Walsh’s daughter-in-law, Rachel Langer, shared some of the lighter side of Peggy. She was always able to laugh at herself and was always learning, as well as teaching. Dr. Walsh loved spending time with her family and especially her granddaughter. She told Rachel the best part of living was being with her son, TJ. With all her professional accomplishments, awards and titles, Dr. Walsh never lost sight of what truly mattered in life.

A Zen-like devotion to her career

We are lucky TJ willingly shared his mother with those of us in the dental hygiene world. Her mark will never be diminished and her memory will continue to motivate for generations to come. TJ told us his mother’s goal was to inspire others to achieve and expect more of themselves and she did that every day.

Those of us privileged to study under Dr. Walsh knew of her Zen approach to many situations. She chose collaboration over conflict and believed in the goodness of everyone.

I will cherish every memory and moment shared with Dr. Walsh. My life, education and professional desires were shaped largely due to her influence. Dental hygiene was not the same before she entered the field and it will be forever changed by her presence and contributions.

This quote from Buddha was in the memorial booklet and fits perfectly: “Dear People, my physical body will not be here tomorrow, but my teaching body will always be here to help. You can consider it as your own teacher, a teacher who never leaves you.”

Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, MS, practices clinically in Napa, Calif. She is owner of Dental IQ, a business responsible for the Annual Napa Dental Experience. Lory combines her love for travel with speaking nationally on a variety of topics. She is also a part-time educator or consultant for American Eagle, Livionex, and Nuvora. She can be contacted at [email protected].