Titan of dentistry, Arthur A. Dugoni, dies at 95

September 30, 2020
Quick Summary:
Dr. Arthur A. Dugoni led a purposeful life and leaves behind a legacy of leadership, innovation and excellence. He is remembered as an iconic figure in the dental profession who inspired the lives of thousands of people.

Past CDA president and exemplary dental educator, Arthur A. Dugoni, DDS, MSD, died Sept. 23 at his home in Palo Alto, California, at the age of 95.

Dr. Dugoni blazed an extraordinary path in the field of dentistry, overseeing the rise of a Northern California dental school to national prominence and, more importantly, expertly training generations of students and dentists with his stewardship of compassion, innovation and utmost care for people.

“In his passing, the dental profession has lost one of its most respected leaders,” said Peter DuBois, CDA executive director. “Dr. Dugoni was a man bound by a sense for a greater good, optimism and hard work. He has truly transformed the dentistry profession and his legacy will continue to inspire the next generation of leaders who harbor the same unwavering passion for dentistry as he did.”

Along with his core values, Dugoni was also guided by his belief that education ought to reach beyond a degree or practice; producing excellent dentists came secondary to developing good people.

"At Pacific we grow people, and along the way they become doctors," Dugoni once said. That was his calling and is his legacy.

Dugoni climbed the professional ladder beginning with a private practice that he maintained for nearly 40 years in South San Francisco. He practiced as a general dentist for 12 years and then as an orthodontist after obtaining his Master of Science in Dentistry from the University of Washington in 1963. He later became a professor and dean and held several high-ranking positions with respected associations.

He served as president of CDA (1982-83), the American Board of Orthodontics and the American Association of Dental Schools. He was also a trustee for the ADA from 1984 to1987, served as ADA president (1988-89) and was the ADA Foundation president from 2003 to 2010.

Additionally, Dugoni was a founding member of the Santa Fe Group and a member of the Council of the FDI World Dental Federation for nine years where he served as treasurer and member of the FDI Executive Committee for six years.

“Dr. Dugoni was a pioneer for the dental profession and he will live on through the many lives he has touched with his immeasurable contributions,” said CDA President Richard Nagy, DDS. “He set a standard that we all should aspire to achieve so that we too can give our best to this profession.”

Thirty years after graduating as valedictorian and student body president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons at the University of the Pacific, Dugoni returned to begin a 28-year run as the dental school's dean until his retirement in 2006.

“Dentistry and dental education are stronger today because of Dr. Dugoni and his passion for people and the profession,” said Nader A. Nadershahi, DDS, current dean of the Dugoni School of Dentistry. “The Dugoni School family honors his legacy and how he touched our lives by building on our defining characteristic of humanistic education and commitment to excellence. Thank you to an incredible mentor and role model.”

Dugoni described his time at the university as a special and unique period. He would, after all, help build the dental school into a nationally recognized program that was unlike any other for its focus on the development of men and women of high character.

"Our entire reason for existence is to create an environment which helps people reach their potential," Dugoni once said. "And more importantly, that their education provides them with a unique opportunity to serve their fellow man."

Before becoming dean, Dugoni started as an assistant professor in 1951. Following that appointment, he served in other capacities, including professor and chair of the Department of Orthodontics, where he would pioneer the primary and mixed dentition orthodontic clinic at University of the Pacific. The program continues under the leadership of another Dugoni: his son Steven.

"Many will remember my father as a legend in dentistry. I will too, but most importantly, I will remember him as dad," said Steven Dugoni, DMD, MSD. "Some of my best moments with dad were observing him interacting with others in all walks of life in a very kind and considerate way. That is one of the many characteristics of dad's legacy that is very important for me to continue."

In 2004 during his 25th year as dean, University of the Pacific renamed its School of Dentistry the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry in honor of his leadership and contributions to organized dentistry and dental education.

“What made Arthur great was his willingness to listen to others, even those who disagreed with him, as well as his great intellect and his eagerness to give freely of his time and talent,” said CDA Past President Gene Welling, DDS. “He is truly a great hero of the dentistry profession.”

At the end of his deanship, Dugoni continued his mission as dean emeritus, professor of orthodontics and senior executive for development.

After a long and fruitful career, Dugoni was able to step back and reflect: "We stand on the shoulders of other individuals as we move forward with our profession,” he said on several occasions. Others may see it the other way around, as his void proves that one person is capable of leaving behind such a towering body of work, one rarely achieved by one person alone. Furthermore, his influence on generations of dentists is unmatched for its scope, breadth and vision for the future.

"As you go through life, there are followers and leaders, and among the leaders, there are great leaders. Those great leaders move mountains and make a difference,” he once said in a tribute to fellow CDA member and past president David Gaynor, DDS.

While speaking to students in 2015 at CDA Presents The Art and Science of Dentistry in San Francisco, Dugoni approached the lectern to deliver his speech "If Not You, Then Who?" as a room full of students and future dentists looked on. Realizing in the moment that the room was filled with the future, Dugoni abandoned his prepared remarks and spoke from the heart. He saw dentists, professors, deans of dental schools, presidents of universities, mayors, governors and presidents of companies. With that foresight, Dugoni challenged them to be more than standard practitioners of dentistry.

And those who follow Dugoni can be confident that they'll succeed because of the groundwork he laid and the example he set forth.

"I urge you," Dugoni said to the students that day, "Go where there's no path and leave a trail of footprints for others to follow. I challenge you to travel that road with passion and conviction.”

Dugoni was married to his late wife Katherine Agnes Groo Dugoni for 66 years and is survived by his companion of recent years, Cathie Perga, seven children (Steven, Michael, Russell, Mary, Diane, Arthur and James),15 grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

Memorial gifts may be made to The Art Dugoni Scholar Fund, an endowment that will support a Dugoni dental student. Visit the fund's webpage or call the dental school’s Office of Development at 415.929.6406. 

An earlier version of this article included an incorrect date for Dugoni’s retirement as dean of the dental school at the University of the Pacific. This version has also been updated to clarify the time periods for Dugoni’s work in private practice.


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