Friday, August 12, 2011

Remembering John Rossetti, Advisor, Colleague and Friend

Dr. Mark Doherty, Executive Director, DentaQuest Institute

This week, we lost a good friend and oral health champion with the passing of Dr. John Rossetti. John’s life was dedicated to public service and improving the lives of others. He got his first taste of community-level engagement working in rural health in Central America as one of the first “class” of Peace Corps volunteers. After graduating from dental school, he joined the U.S. Air Force and served as a Dental Officer in New Mexico and Thailand, providing dental care in the villages surrounding his base. From there, his commitment to public service lead him to join the Indian Health Service, where as the only dentist for two reservations, he learned valuable lessons in prevention, education, early intervention and restorative services. He passed these lessons along to so many peers and public health professionals throughout the years, and his guidance and tutelage made us better at what we do.

As Chief Dental Officer for the Health Resources and Services Administration, John initiated the first ever partnership between a health agency and Medicaid to address access to oral health services for children. And after ‘retiring’ in 2002, he started a new career as a consultant. It was in 2008 that I had the privilege of welcoming John as one of the DentaQuest Institute’s Safety Net Solutions program’s first Expert Advisors – our elite faculty of experienced public health dentists who are mentoring safety net dental programs across the United States.

Mentoring was in John’s soul. He loved interacting with people and connecting the dots. But more than that, he connected pulses -- helping friends share resources and ultimately have more impact both on the profession and on each other. He made us more effective and he taught us to do it with a smile. John was a genuine Pied Piper. Was there anybody more suited to the dental profession? I cannot imagine what his chair side demeanor must have been like!

John was also the ultimate diplomat. He would warn us -- not about people –always about situations to avoid or at least to consider avoiding before blundering ahead. And, when faced with thorny decisions, John always left us a gap through which we could make a graceful exit if we were not able to go where John wished. John loved to navigate or help navigate the tough situation. I actually believe he preferred the help navigate scenario because he so valued the personal relationship part of the journey. Somewhere, he learned that he could accomplish more of his mission by sharing what he had learned with us. Lucky us!

The last time I talked to John he was very sick. He refused to talk about himself and only wanted to know about me and whether I had followed-up on something he had told me I should do. And, as expected, the follow-up was related to friends. What a guy, so unselfish! Another lesson learned.

It has been an honor and privilege to share a part of this nice man’s life. Jeez! I miss John…. All of us at the DentaQuest Institute will.