In 2003, I was fortunate to dine with Pete Dawson and he spoke about his friendship with Dr. Morty Amsterdam and how he so enjoyed coming to Philadelphia. He spoke about L.D. Pankey. At one point he said something I will never forget, he said, “You know, L.D. was no fluke.” I asked what he meant. He told me, “L.D. really loved dentists and loved the dental profession. That is what drove him.”
Dr. Dawson was no fluke, either.
Through his writings and teaching of over 50 years, he was a warrior for meaningful, excellent and dutiful dentistry. When news Pete’s passing came, tens of thousands of dentists all over the world wrote about how much he meant to their lives and careers. He had carried the torch of meaningful comprehensive dentistry into the hearts and minds of dentists for as long as I can remember.
I carry a coin in my wallet which reads, Memento Mori. The Stoics used that phrase to remind themselves that everyone is mortal. “You could leave life right now.” When the news of his passing came, I was shocked. Joan Forest reported that Pete was prepared and yet on the Tuesday before he was still preparing lectures and writing a chapter for a new book. I guess that is what the keepers of meaning do right to the end.
Excellence, duty, and meaning are the primary sources of Stoic joy.
Not the surface cheerfulness and pleasure that we have come to know on social media. The essence of what L.D. and Pete taught led to real inner happiness. I know it did for me.
Erik Erikson, the developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory on the psychological development of human beings, described the last tasks of adult development as generativity and keeper of the meaning. Erikson claimed that if one completed these tasks, the reward would be a full life.
As the Pankey Institute continues passing on the knowledge of meaningful comprehensive dentistry to younger dentists (from one generation to the next) and to never waiver on the meaning of dentistry for patients and dental professionals, there is true potential for a new generation to become keepers of the meaning. And this makes me smile.