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.
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