Northwest Dentistry recently sat down with Drs. Michael Rohrer* and Tony Lund**, members of the committee that is developing/creating a destination space on the 16th floor of Moos Tower at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry to advance the astonishing legacy and protean spirit of the late Robert Gorlin. Dr. Gorlin was a towering figure in the fields of craniofacial disorders, genetic defects, syndromes of the head and neck, and oral and maxillofacial pathology. Our conversation came in the early and critical fundraising phase of the project. It began with waves and waves of “Bob stories”, and demonstrated once again the deep and enduring influence the man had on all who came in contact with him.
NWD: What was the inspiration for what is happening here?
Dr. Rohrer: Mike Till†, Tony Lund, and I started thinking about how we could make a visual statement about Bob, and the inspiration was first and foremost that we wanted to keep the memory and spirit of Bob Gorlin alive for everyone who would come to the area in which he spent so much of his life, not as a memorial, but as a living reminder for anyone who came this way that what we are doing was, is, inspired and motivated, infused, by Bob. Mike Till said, “It is to regenerate his spirit in people’s minds.”
NWD: Let’s look at specifics: What it will look like; how it will work? What is the timeline for development/construction?
Dr. Rohrer: A few years ago, we developed, modernized, and decorated a “Gorlin Conference Room” here on the 16th floor of the School, bringing in memorabilia, pictures, certificates … but we wanted to make a bigger statement. A few of the other elevator lobbies in Moos Tower have been remodeled in a very classy way to set off what goes on in those areas. We thought we would accent the hallway where you come off the elevators to the oral pathology area where Bob spent all of his life in this building, and that that would be not only a tribute but an inspiration for people. It will have special lighting, wall covering, wall sconces, nice carpeting … top notch decorating. Those of us on the committee decided the end wall, which is blank with no windows, would be a giant portrait of Bob, so that anybody arriving would be struck by his almost literal presence, befitting his “more than life-size [laughter] larger-than-life” persona, and feel his spirit. There would be a plaque citing his accomplishments, but the portrait is the focus. We want the entire area to create the ambience of Bob’s presence.
This is going to cost some money, but it will be done entirely through donations. It will not cost the School, the University, or the state of Minnesota anything. It will come via gifts from people who have known Bob, have been helped by Bob, who were touched by him over the years, so that all of the costs will be covered by gifts from people who remember what Bob Gorlin had done for them and … for the world, through his knowledge and his care for people.
NWD: When you say “the world”, that’s not hyperbole, is it?
Drs. Rohrer and Lund: No, not at all.
NWD: What is this new place for? What is going to happen here?
Dr. Rohrer: The Gorlin Conference Room as it exists right now has been for use by anyone in the Academic Health Center. Generally it is used by people in the dental school for meetings, classes, laboratory discussions. It gets used for all sorts of academic and social events. To widen the purpose as we have described, we will be doing a very quick and concentrated fundraising effort. It is important for people to see what is going to happen here. The goal is to have it done by this October by the time of the site visit for the School’s accreditation, and for the Gorlin Conference, which brings all of the oral and maxillofacial graduate students from all over the United States and Canada every year to Minneapolis.
The Gorlin Conference originally brought experts from all over the world together to discuss syndromes of the head and neck, disease, and dysmorphology. That went on for 13 years. Then several years before he died, Bob ended those. Following his death, we thought that because one of his early and long-lasting goals was to promote, sustain, and improve the specialty of oral and maxillofacial pathology, one of the best ways we could do that was to build the friendships and networking for all of the young people who would be going into the specialty over the years, and at the same time make certain that they would not be left without a knowledge and understanding of Bob Gorlin. The purpose of the yearly conference would be to provide the knowledge of who he was, what he was, what type of person he was, so that this would never be lost in the field of dentistry and the special field of oral pathology. World-class Visiting Gorlin Professors bring their knowledge and expertise in genetics and oral pathology to these conferences.
NWD: What would he think of all this?
Dr. Lund: If he stepped off the elevator to see this he would be stunned. This was a man who would be amazed when people – colleagues – would ask for his autograph. He didn’t lead that kind of life.
Dr. Rohrer: I think he would be surprised, but he would also comment something like “This must have cost money that could have been used better. [laughs] And people are going to get off that elevator, see that mug on the wall, and it’ll scare them to death — especially the children!”
NWD: What can this new area with its focus on Bob Gorlin do?
Dr. Rohrer: I think so many people have been touched either very directly or indirectly by this man’s intellect, by his contribution to dentistry, to medicine, that we want to keep not only his memory but the active intellect and scholarship alive. We hope that people will be interested and willing to make a contribution toward what we are trying to set up physically to keep his presence among us as long as we possibly can.
Dr. Lund: Schools are built on reputation and history. Bob is a very special part of his specialty’s, this school’s, and this University’s, history.
Dr. Rohrer: Bob didn’t do anything half-way. His energy came from what he was able to do, and he wanted anyone, everyone, to be able to at least aspire to that. That is the place we want to create.
How to Contribute
To contribute to the Robert Gorlin project at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, contributions may be sent to Fund #20015 Robert Gorlin Memorial; checks payable to University of Minnesota Foundation. Mail to Development Office, 15-136 Moos Tower, 515 Delaware Street Southeast, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455.
For further information, please contact Fred Bertschinger, Development Office, (612) 625-5751. Email is firstname.lastname@example.org
*Dr. Rohrer is Professor, Division of Oral & Maxillofacial Pathology, University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Email is email@example.com
**Dr. Lund is a retired pediatric dentist in Rochester, Minnesota, and a former part-time faculty member of the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. He and Dr. Gorlin were friends for more than 60 years.
†Dr. Till was on the University of Minnesota dental school faculty for more than 40 years. He is a former dean of the School and a past-president of the Minnesota Dental Association.