Thomas D. Larson, D.D.S., M.S.D.; Muriel Bebeau, M.A., Ph.D.; Paul Olin, D.D.S., M.S.; Jill Stoltenberg, RDH, R.F.D.H., M.A.; Marie Baudek, M.Ed.; and Ronald Kent, D.D.S.:
Lynda Young was “one of those people who” – who worked behind the scenes, stayed behind the scenes, and without whom none of it would have been possible. Her loss in February of this year left a standard, and a legacy, that should be recognized, remembered, and built upon within the profession she dedicated so much to advancing, and beyond that to the lives she touched, connected, and enriched by effort and example. For every non-D.D.S. who supports and informs our profession, and for every D.D.S. who does the work at the highest level available because he or she can access the tools needed, Lynda Young represents the best in each of us, and stands as an individual who made a difference she could only begin to imagine as she looked at a life well lived. The following tribute is about Lynda and dedicated to her, but it is, as well, a recognition of those who do and will do such work, a sentiment she would surely applaud.
Thomas D. Larson, D.D.S., M.S.D.*
Lynda Young was a faculty member at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry for 38 years and was director of the Continuing Dental Education Program for 28 years. She was a pioneer in continuing dental education, expanding the program from 32 courses and 3,000 participants in the early 1980s to more than 147 courses and 7,900 participants in 2011 coming from many countries like Singapore, Greece, Canada, and from all over the USA. She was a pioneer in developing hands-on courses in dentistry and dental hygiene and in shaping the statutes about continuing dental education through her service on the State of Minnesota Board of Dentistry from 1985-1992. While her accomplishments are many, not only locally but nationally known and recognized, her colleagues at the School of Dentistry knew her as an eager participant and valued advisor in the governance of the school; as an optimist and a “can do” person; as an innovator and supporter of faculty growth. For many practitioners in Minnesota and beyond, she was unknown, because she preferred to work behind the scenes and frequently highlighted what her team accomplished. Some of her colleagues have reminiscences they would like to share with the practicing community.
Muriel Bebeau, M.A., Ph.D.**
When Lynda’s family, friends, and colleagues came together to celebrate a life well-lived, I offered the following remarks:
It is easy to rejoice at a birth, as Jeanne Enroth must have rejoiced at Lynda Jeanne’s birth 61 years ago. Though death is a part of life, it is an event that is more difficult to celebrate, especially if it comes before its time, or, as in Lynda’s case, after she had developed such high hopes for what life still had to offer.
When Lynda was diagnosed with oral cancer in July of 2006, we had a very long phone discussion. She knew she had a very low probability of even surviving, and our conversation repeatedly turned to the list of life events she would likely miss: son Eric’s graduation from West Point, seeing her children marry and bring her the grandchildren she dearly hoped for. At that point, remarrying wasn’t even on the horizon.
Yet she survived not only the very difficult treatment but its aftermath. It was six months before she could return to work. When Jill Stoltenberg, Lynda’s colleague, interviewed her about her illness and recovery, Lynda said she learned a lot about herself and about how many friends she had. Reflecting on that time, she said: “It’s like attending your own funeral. I got letters and flowers from people I didn’t even know very well … I thought I was living a rather small life: Get up, go to work, and so on. But we touch many people’s lives, especially as health professionals. And, as health professions’ educators, we touch the lives that touch the lives. We should never underestimate the importance of a kind word.”
Returning to work in January 2007, she made plans. She had developed a highly successful CDE program, but, did these courses (which dentists were often required to take) facilitate transfer of learning to professional practice? To fully prepare to address this question, she enrolled in a Ph.D. program, and asked if I would be her advisor. She had completed much of her course work as she celebrated five years cancer free last July. We had planned her dissertation research — a series of studies — and had received IRB approval for the first phase. That fall, data collection had begun.
It was in December that I got an e-mail from her: “Bad News!” it said. Having had a close friend die of glioblastoma multiform a little more than 10 years previously, I had a pretty good idea just how bad the news was. As after the first diagnosis, I asked if she wanted to talk, and a day or so later we did. We discussed our spiritual journeys, scriptures we found inspirational, music we loved. We talked of what we would do together in the days ahead. She wanted to talk about oral cancer at the Star of the North Meeting in April. I was to help with the presentation — especially if she were having difficulty communicating. Together we would also write letters to people who were important to her. We didn’t get very far on that project, probably because Lynda has so many friends who came to visit.
Lynda’s children, Karna and Eric, traveled with her to Mayo to consult about further treatment and ultimately to shift their attention from curing to caring. That was hard. The Caring Bridge website they set up was a blessing for all of us. It helped us learn things we didn’t know about their mother from each other. And they discovered much about Lynda. They told me, “We always thought we were the most important thing in her life. We had no idea how influential she was — what a difference she had made. We had never even seen her CV.” They learned, of course, that everyone knew they were the most important people in her life.
Lynda had a knack for inspiring people, for pointing to their good points. This she did regularly and consistently. One of her colleagues said, “When I had no faith in myself, she had faith in me. How much her encouragement helped me!” She demonstrated the qualities of the exemplary professional. She looked on the proverbial bright side, was uncommonly positive and consistently other-centered. She was so modest about her own accomplishments. I reminded her that she had developed the best CE program in the country, to which she replied, “Well, we may be in the top five.” Her sense of humility about her own importance relative to what had been accomplished came through when she would say, “We have an effective team.” She knew it took a team to manage 147 courses and 7,900 program participants. What she didn’t seem to know is that she was the glue that kept the team together. She would motivate and inspire, then get out of the way to let people shine. As a staff member said, “Even if you didn’t exactly shine the first time, there was praise, encouragement, feedback, and support to try again.”
As a faculty member, she was voice of reason with the moral courage to speak hard truths. No matter the issue or level of tension surrounding it, we could count on her not only to speak up, but to offer a reasoned perspective that was well articulated and moved us toward solutions.
She clearly had an ability to balance multiple commitments. At work she was tough and determined. While demonstrating an unwavering commitment to accomplish a goal, she was caring when it came to the people involved in its pursuit. With family, she was sweet, kind, and did not pass judgment. Her daughter told us, “She didn’t meddle. She’d say, ‘I have confidence in you. You’ll figure it out.’”
Lynda was, and remained, uncommonly positive. She knew that when faced with bad news, she had to be hopeful. Hence she asked each of her physicians, “What is the most positive thing you can tell me about my condition?”
We had in Lynda a multi-faceted person of uncommon character and competence, and though we mourn our loss, we have been graced by her presence.
Paul Olin, D.D.S., M.S.***
I first got to know Lynda as a faculty member, then as a clinician in the faculty practice. In 1998, Lynda asked me to observe a continuing education hands-on program that she had started with experts outside the school. (As an educator I had a talent for determining what types of courses dentists wanted and needed.) As a result of that invitation, we worked together on 130 or more weekend courses over the last 15 years.
Yes, she was a stickler for detail, which resulted in a team that produces the best dental continuing education in the world. Our postgraduate program alone boasts dentists who have traveled from many countries, many of them multiple times. One participant made 14 trips from Singapore! She did this with hard work and self-sacrifice.
During these C.E. weekends all sorts of things could occur, but few people would ever know because contingency plans were in place and the courses succeeded without fail. During one of the weekend courses, Lynda couldn’t find Dr. X because he had checked himself into the university hospital. He later called to see if she could help get him released! The schedule was modified, and later on Saturday, the speaker presented his course.
Lynda was often a sounding board once our business at hand was finished. She even offered career advice, telling me, “Focus on the aspects of the work you like, and try to ignore the rest.”
The faculty practice where we had shared many patients was important to her, as she felt the need to be active clinically in order to be relevant to the changes in dentistry and her work as the Director of Continuing Dental Education.
After her victory over her oral cancer, Lynda and Dr. Ron Kent married. I could tell she was very happy. She would tell me how Ron liked a course in San Diego and had started to do some implant surgery and wasn’t that a great course. She was always planning, wanting to always improve the courses we could offer. We will miss her strong will and unending dedication. Her legacy extends beyond her family to the thousands she helped educate.
Jill L. Stoltenberg, R.D.H., R.F.D.H., M.A.†
“I’m having difficulty with my balance. Would you be willing to see my patients this week?” These are the words of my extremely talented and conscientious colleague who, when faced with a frightening medical situation last December, wanted to make sure her patients were well cared for. Simply canceling their appointments was not an option for her. Such dedication and professionalism were hallmarks of Lynda Young’s career as a clinical dental hygienist and educator. She taught in the undergraduate dental hygiene program for a period of time prior to assuming her role as Director of Continuing Education. Her goals and aspirations soon stretched beyond the undergraduate students to the wider community of dental hygienists: planning, developing, and teaching dental hygiene courses that would have a significant impact on clinical practice. In addition, she served as president of the Minnesota Dental Hygienists’ Association and on the Board of Dentistry. In so doing, she forged new relationships among dental hygiene, the Minnesota Dental Association, and the community.
Lynda’s communication skills, more specifically her listening skills, thoughtfulness, and keen sense of others’ strengths, made her a master at cultivating cooperative relationships. Such relationships were necessary for the dental team to fulfill their primary goal of improving the oral health of Minnesotans. Most recently, she had been drawn back into the dental hygiene program through her participation in the development, committee work, and thesis advising of the new Master in Dental Hygiene (MDH) degree program offered by the School of Dentistry. She was an effective mentor and role model for both students and faculty.
People who have made such contributions are considered pillars, and she was just that in the School of Dentistry, the Division of Dental Hygiene, and the dental hygiene community. The impact of her contributions will continue to influence the School and profession for many years to come.
Marie A. Baudek, M.Ed.‡
All of us in Continuing Dental Education were greatly influenced by Lynda, both personally and professionally. Lynda supported our professional growth over the years, encouraging the development of new skills and providing the leadership, training, and resources that enabled us to grow in our positions. When life presented personal challenges, Lynda was a wonderful confidante, always kind and understanding of our individual situations.
Lynda respected the contributions that each of us brought to the team and allowed us to use our strengths to collectively provide enjoyable and beneficial continuing education experiences to course attendees. We are all committed to continuing Lynda’s legacy: providing innovative, quality educational programs that positively impact the lives and careers of dental health professionals and, in turn, the patients they treat.
*Dr. Larson is Associate Professor, Division of Operative Dentistry, Department of Restorative Sciences, University of Minnesota School of Dentistry.
**Dr. Bebeau is Professor, Division of Community Oral Health, Department of Primary Care, University of Minnesota. Her remarks are adapted from the eulogy for Lynda Young delivered March 9, 2012.
***Dr. Olin is Associate Professor, Division of Prosthodontics, Department of Restorative Sciences, University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. His remarks are adapted from the eulogy for Lynda Young delivered March 9, 2012.
†Ms. Stoltenberg is Associate Professor, Division of Dental Hygiene, Department of Primary Care, University of Minnesota School of Dentistry.
‡Ms. Baudek is Director of Continuing Education, University of Minnesota School of Dentistry.
As Far As You Can: A Tribute to Lynda Young