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Remembering Dean Salley

Written by Adam Zewe

Seventy-five family members, friends and former colleagues gathered at a memorial service on Jan. 4 at Westminster Canterbury in Richmond, Va., to honor the life and legacy of Dr. John J. Salley.

Salley, who served as dean of the dental school from 1963 through 1974, died on Dec. 18 at age 84.

After serving in the Air Force during World War II, Salley began his academic career as a professor of oral pathology in the school of dentistry at the Medical College of Virginia. From there, the Richmond native joined the dental school as dean.

During his tenure, the first African American faculty member joined the dental school, the dental hygiene program was established and the six-story, 270,000-square-foot Hayden-Harris Hall was constructed.

One of Salley's biggest contributions to the school was his focus on research and science, said Dr. Bernard Levy, who was recruited by Salley in 1969. Salley established many of the post-graduate specialty programs that have continued to flourish at the dental school.

Salley recruited Dr. Mark Wagner in 1968 and charged him with developing a graduate program in pediatric dentistry -- a first for the school. With Salley's tireless support, the program was up and running in a year, explained Wagner, a dean's faculty member who retired in 2001.

"He developed leadership and he encouraged leadership and innovation," Wagner said. "I was fortunate to be with him."

Beyond Salley's leadership abilities, he impressed Levy with his warmth and friendly demeanor. The two sailed together in a dental school sailing club, which Salley established.

That warmth and compassion will always resonate with Dr. Wagner, as well. When Wagner's wife gave birth to a child with severe disabilities, Salley told him to take as much time off as he needed. In one of Wagner's favorite baby pictures, his son is holding onto a stuffed dog that was a gift from Salley.

"He was a southern gentleman in the best way possible -- cordial, gracious and classy," he said.

Salley is survived by his wife, Jean Cunningham Salley, son, Dr. John J. Salley Jr., daughters, Katharine S. Rosemond and Martha C. Salley, brother Thomas Raysor Salley Jr., and two grandchildren.

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