Michele Leonardi Darby, eminent scholar and professor at Old Dominion University, passed away peacefully at home on February 5th. Mother, wife, educator, and acclaimed author, she inspired thousands around the world with her contagious energy and enthusiasm for the future of dental hygiene. Her work earned many accolades including the Esther Wilkins Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (2013), the Distinguished Alumni Award in Dental Hygiene from the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine (2011), the Excellence in Teaching Award from the ODU College of Health Sciences (2007), the Virginia State Council on Higher Education’s Outstanding Faculty Award (1993), and the Rufus Alan Tonelson Distinguished Faculty Award (1991), among many other honors. Her three celebrated textbooks and over 50 peer-reviewed journal articles revolutionized and elevated the field of dental hygiene.
After receiving her certificate in dental hygiene at the University of Pittsburgh, she earned a BS and MS from Columbia University where she taught for two years before coming to ODU in 1974. She was promoted to Chair of the School of Dental Hygiene in 1982 until 1989 when she became Graduate Program Director. She again assumed the Chair from 2011 until her retirement in 2013. During her career, she served as editor for several professional journals and actively participated on advisory boards for Oral B, Proctor and Gamble, and Elsevier. A renowned and sought-after speaker, she inspired people around the world with her visionary leadership and her passion for confronting oral health inequalities. Always interested in diverse cultures, she visited the People’s Republic of China in 1981 as part of a pioneering delegation of visiting professionals where she shared dental hygiene concepts and techniques with Chinese dentists. She was also the first hygienist to become a Fulbright Distinguished Scholar, which she spent at Jordan University of Science and Technology in Irbid, Jordan, during 2010. She may be best remembered as a mentor and teacher – always generous with her time, genuinely dedicated to her students and colleagues, and gentle yet earnest in giving advice. She cared deeply about providing educational opportunities in international health, and so together with her husband, established the Michele L. Darby Global Oral Health Award in 2014 to continue her legacy of excellence in teaching, clinical care, and global outreach at ODU.
Accomplishments aside, her husband and children were what truly mattered to Michele. She will be lovingly remembered by her husband, Dennis A. Darby, her daughter, Devan Darby Bartels, her son, Blake Leonardi Darby, her son-in-law, David Heekin Bartels, her parents Tulio and Henrietta Leonardi, her sister Melanie Yerace, and her brother Michael Leonardi, as well as many extended family and friends.
A celebration of her life will be held at the ODU University Theater on April 25 at 1pm. It will be open to all who were inspired by her life.
Please share a memory with the family via the “Condolences and Tributes” tab.Send Flowers
I am so sad to hear of Michele. A strong light has gone out in the dental hygiene profession that may never be replaced. She leaves a wonderful legacy that remains with every dental hygienist now practicing and to every dental hygiene patient now being treated. Compassion with knowledge was her striking note in everything she did.
On a personal level, she was one of the DH greats that I looked for on how to obtain a professional career path early on in my own career. Then I was honored to collaborate with her on a textbook project over these last years. I will never forget her.
My thoughts go out to her family that she was so proud of.
Thoughts and Prayers to the family of this Amazing Lady. She was such an inspiration to me as well as many others in the Dental Hygiene Profession. She was an Awesome Professor/Instructor & I am very honored to of been taught by her.. ODU c/o 2000.
A true loss to the dental community. She was an awesome instructor and mentor to all. She loved dentistry and always strived to contribute to it’s growth and future. I encountered her at a community social 20+ years after graduation and she recognized me and we visited like it was yesterday. Her passion and love for the profession lives on in all of us. She will be dearly missed. My thoughts and prayers go out to all her family and friends. Heaven gained an angel today! ?❤️
Lorraine Dinga RDH BS
Mrs. Darby was a wonderful teacher and mentor. I will always be grateful for the impact she made on my life. My deepest sympathies to her family. ODU c/o 2004, 2006.
I had the pleasure of meeting Michele shortly after I started working for ODU at VMASC. She was one of the first to reach out and we explored areas of mutual research and practice interest. She was so kind, energetic and visionary in her passion for seeing the growth of her discipline. I feel lucky to have known her, even for a brief time. She will remain an inspiration to all who knew her.Michele leaves behind an awesome legacy, but she left us too soon.
Michele was my mentor and friend. She gave me an opportunity to attend ODU as a grad student and I feel so blessed to have had her in my life. She was an amazing woman. My condolences to Dennis, Devan, and Blake. I’ll keep her memory with me forever. ODU c/o 2000.
Although Mrs. Darby had a profound and positive impact on my life, I never had the privilege to meet her. I graduated from Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC in 2010 – DDS. I passed my part I National Board Dental Examination in 2011. I had a very difficult time passing my National Board Dental Examination Part II. I failed the exam several times and the Joint Commission On National Dental Examinations gave me one more attempt to ever take this exam. I did everything in my ability to pass NBDE Part II. I read Mrs. Darby’s book – Mosby’s Comprehensive Review of Dental Hygiene from cover to cover. I reviewed her 1,450 new review questions and reviewed her online timed practice exams which fully simulated the computer-based testing environment. I passed NBDE Part II. I am on my way towards becoming an excellent, loving, and compassionate dentist. Mrs. Darby’s work directly impacted my life and my ability to pass NBDE Part II. I will forever be grateful to Mrs. Darby. Sent with love, respect, and tremendous gratitude.
Carmelo Isidore Bruny (Dr. Bruny)