It has been a life-long observation of mine that leaders who are well-loved, who people are drawn to, who friends just want to hang out with, have a comic side to them. A quick wit and the ability to tell a funny story are traits people enjoy.
This was certainly true of Dr. L. D. Pankey, as I found out the first and only time I ever met him.
It was July of 1988 and I was making my first ever visit the renowned Pankey Institute for Continuum Level 1 taught by Drs. Irwin Becker and Donald “Ozzie” Asbjornson. To say the week for me was monumental is, quite frankly, an understatement. It would be like saying smartphones have had an influence on our culture. You see, I knew I had a passion for dentistry, but before that week at C1, I had no idea what to do with it.
And the perfect ending to the week was a visit to our class by the legend himself, Dr. L. D. Pankey. He was well up into his 80’s and had been “under the weather” for the last month, or so. But he was extremely excited that there were some international students in the class – four actually: two from the U.K., one from Denmark, and one from Alabama. So, on the last day, which was Friday morning, Dr. Pankey had asked to be brought up to the Institute for a surprise visit to the class.
Executive Director, Chris Sager, was speaking to the class in Mann Hall when Dr. Pankey stepped into the back of the room and took a seat. Chris immediately stopped what he had been saying and announced, “We’ve had a special visitor just come into the room.”
All eyes turned to the back of the room where we saw a humble, elderly man wearing a white starched shirt, necktie, and freshly pressed suit. Honestly, it didn’t immediately dawn on me who he was.
Then Chris asked from the front of the room, “Dr. Pankey, how do you feel?”
Without missing a beat, Dr. Pankey responded, “Oh…mostly with my fingers.”
The whole room laughed. The witty retort was funny, but even funnier was the fact that Dr. Pankey had played Chris Sager as the straight man. What a moment. What a gift. By the following March, L. D. Pankey would no longer be with us. But we had the privilege in that one glimpse of seeing the cleverness of the man who had charmed so many.
After we all finished laughing. On that Friday morning so many years ago, Chris invited Dr. Pankey to come upfront and speak to the class. He welcomed us and expressed his pleasure that we were there. Then he picked up a marker to begin writing on the whiteboard. After a pause, he put the cap back on the marker and placed it in the tray. He looked at us and with his voice a little shaky said, “There’s so much I want to tell you. Just read my book – it’s all in the book.”
Most of us in the Pankey family today never got to meet Dr. L. D. Pankey. But you can still “meet” him in the pages of A Philosophy of Dental Practice, the book on which he and Dr. Bill Davis collaborated. If he could speak to us today, I believe he would tell us a little joke and say, “Just read my book – it’s all in the book.”