The profession of dentistry and the world in general lost one of the all-time greats with the recent death of Tony Romano.
It was my good fortune some 43 years ago to volunteer for an experimental program at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. At the time, there was a perceived shortage of dentists in the state, so the School was testing a plan to get students into the clinic sooner and hopefully graduate in three years rather than four. Twelve of us volunteered and were assigned to Tony Romano to learn the art and science of Operative Dentistry.
We got to spend the whole summer learning from the master. But Tony was more than a teacher, he was a kindly father figure for us, amazing us with his vast knowledge of virtually any subject that came up. I remember mentioning that I liked to cook and especially enjoyed Italian fare. The next day Tony showed up with a jar of his home grown and canned pickled hot peppers. As most of our peers were varieties of “Scandahoovians”, anything more piquant than a cherry tomato being anathema to them, only Maria Pintado and I truly appreciated the gift.
As time went by, Tony and I became great friends. He was assigned as my student advisor. Because of the program, I was on track to graduate one year early, with the class of 1973. Only one problem: I was lacking one partial denture, which was held up at the lab and wouldn’t arrive in time to complete my clinical requirements. I complained to Tony, he listened sympathetically as usual, and then gave me some of the greatest advice I would ever hear: “Bill, take some time off, go fishing; you’ll be a dentist the rest of your life.” So I went fishing with my buddies, having a great adventure in the Boundary Waters and returning refreshed to graduate one month later.
Tony made sure that after graduation those of us who chose to practice in God’s Country became members of the Duluth Dental District (now the Northeastern). But not just members — active members. Tony had a profound effect on us: Mark Boback, Duane MacDonald, Jim Westman, and yours truly, of course, all members of Tony’s “Summer School”, have served as presidents of the district and in other district, state, and national positions.
We were all so proud of Tony, and attended many of the award presentations honoring him over the years. I especially remember being in attendance at the University when Tony was awarded the Ambert Hall Award. I found it quite ironic that this kind and gentle teacher and doctor was given an award named after a person whose greatest legacy was his reputation for insulting and terrorizing his students. Fortunately the award goes by a different name today. Perhaps it should be the Anthony D. Romano Award?
We students all got a kick out of watching Tony and his friends in the American Academy of Gold Foil Operators as they demonstrated their craft in the clinic at their monthly meetings. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of working with gold foil, it is a tremendously meticulous, putzy, and frustrating way to fill a tooth. The members of the Academy were all legendarily esteemed practitioners; along with Tony were the likes of Perry Dungy and Ralph Werner. It was a joy to watch them. They were pioneers in the use of magnifi cation, wearing “loupes” (magnifying lenses on long wire stalks that could be flipped up when not in use), making the Academy members look for all the world like a bevy of white-coated June bugs as they took their leisure.
After graduation, the soonest opportunity to take my Board exams was in August in Kansas City. Our gang of graduates made the pilgrimage to the “Show Me” state. We had to find our own patients to work on. I was lucky enough to find a kind lady who needed an amalgam, a gold inlay, and a gold foil. The foil was not a nice easy buccal pit filling, but a dreaded lingual approach Class III foil on an upper lateral incisor. Fortunately for me, as I was waiting at the airport for Terry to arrive to be my assistant, who was there waiting to return home but Tony?
I explained my apprehension about the foil. Tony drew up a game plan for me, telling me the secret for getting the foil started. His final words to me were “and if you don’t do that, you’ll be there all day trying to get it to work.”
The first day of the boards went very well. The next day all I had to do was the foil. The prep was a breeze, and I went to begin the filling. Do you think for the life of me I could recall Tony’s secret? Flop sweat ran down my face and back. Time was running out when in desperation I took a pellet of “gold dent” (gold dust wrapped in gold foil) and pounded it home. That was the secret! Success at last! I remember one of the examiners calling some of his colleagues over and saying proudly, “Now this is how they do things in Minnesota.”
Thank you, Tony. Tony was a “polymath”, a man of infi nite interests and talents. If a subject interested Tony, he became an expert at it, be it archeology, geology, flint-knapping, speaking Ojibwa, ornithology, mycology, wild flowers, arboriculture, gardening, welding, cooking, carpentry, fishing, hunting, photography, basket weaving, pottery -and this is not a complete list!
But most of all, Tony was a devoted husband to Pat and a great father to their daughters, Cathryn, Mary Beth, Ann, Geralyn, and Patty; a grandfather of 11, and a great-grandfather of six. And to think all Terry and I have are two wonderful sons, one puppy, and a kitty.
Thank you, Tony, for a life well lived. We will miss you
*Dr. Stein is Executive Editor of Northwest Dentistry
. He is a general dentist in private practice in Aitkin, Minnesota, AitkinDent@AOL.com