Dr. Wilbur Owen Ramsey, a former chairman, assistant dean and professor at the University of Maryland's School of Dentistry, who one former colleague called "the dental version of an Edison," died Dec. 5 at the Edenwald retirement community in Towson. He was 93.
Ramsey researched and taught prosthetics and prosthodontics at the dental school for 41 years before retiring in 1985. He continued his research at Johns Hopkins Swallowing Center after his retirement.
Dr. Bernard Levy, who worked with Ramsey at the University of Maryland for 16 years, said he had a formidable combination of intelligence and personality.
"You'd walk into his office and say 'Web, what are you doing?'" Levy said. "And he'd be creating some device to help artists who were handicapped so that they could hold brushes in their mouth."
Ramsey spoke Latin, Greek and Italian, and wasn't above practical joking. Levy said Ramsey once sneaked up behind him in the grocery store and said, "Stick 'em up!"
This combination of innovation and personality made Ramsey as good a clinician as he was a researcher, Levy said.
"He would see the patients that other people didn't know how to fix," he said. "He was the most intelligent dentist I ever met. If you had any kind of problem, he could help. He was the dental version of an Edison. He had a very creative mind."
Ramsey never hesitated to ask questions of his colleagues, and when he did, he had usually already read up on the subject and had ideas about the material.
"A question was never just a question," Levy said. "If he was asking, he was on a fishing trip, and he was gonna catch a fish eventually."
Dr. Gus Livaditis, who invented the Maryland Bridge, a widely used method of dental prosthesis to replace a missing tooth, called Ramsey a mentor. Ramsey hired Livaditis, and they worked together at Maryland for 15 years.
Ramsey taught thousands of students over his years as a professor, but Livaditis said the teaching extended beyond his lectures.
"We learned as much in the coffee room and in the hallways as we did in the classroom," he said. "He was one of the brightest individuals at the dental school. I don't know the figures, but I'm sure he was close to genius."
Ramsey was born on July 15, 1920 in West Virginia. He was described as a gentle-mannered man, generous with his time and knowledge. He dedicated his life to teaching, said Bennett Ramsey, his son.
"He was a great father, but the students, to him, were his life," Bennett Ramsey said.
His students loved him as well — his family said on several occasions, his students dedicated the dental school's yearbook, The Mirror, to him.
The yearbook's 1971 dedication said: "He has sometimes lectured us, sometimes questioned us, sometimes demanded much of us; but he has never failed to listen to our problems with understanding and encouragement. Also, his vast knowledge, ready wit, and sincere interest in our education have made him outstanding. He is a true teacher."
A memorial service for Ramsey will be held at Edenwald, 800 Southerly Rd., Towson, at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 28.