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Joseph Patrick Cappuccio, a retired professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery and a former president of the American Dental Association, died May 23 of heart failure at St. Joseph Medical Center. He was 87.

Born in Garfield, N.J., Dr. Cappuccio, the son of Italian immigrants, was raised in Watch Hill, R.I. After graduating from Westerly High School, he enrolled at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1943 in chemistry and biology.

He was a 1946 graduate of the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery - the dental school of the University of Maryland - and completed an internship and residency in oral surgery at University Hospital in 1948, and was board-certified as an oral surgeon in 1951.

Beginning in 1948 and continuing for the next 50 years, Dr. Cappuccio taught generations of dental students oral and maxillofacial surgery at the University of Maryland Dental School.

"He was a giant and had a national reputation. We lost one of the most influential and important individuals in American dentistry. I feel very strongly about that," said Dr. Christian Stohler, who has been dean of the University of Maryland Dental School since 2003. "He was known for being an exquisite and fast-working oral surgeon."

Even though Dr. Cappuccio retired in 1998, he remained a paid adviser to the dean of the dental school.

"Believe me, I've gotten my money's worth out of him," Dr. Stohler said with a laugh.

"He was very outspoken and would tell me how I could do things better, and he was always right. I benefited more from him than he from me," he said.

He recalled that Dr. Cappuccio was a popular figure with dental students.

"No matter if they had graduated 10, 20 or 40 years ago, when they came to reunions, they all shared the same memory of Dr. Cappuccio having a phone jammed to his ear while doing surgery. He was always on the phone," he said.

Dr. Cappuccio had been president of the Baltimore City Dental Society, Mid-Atlantic Society of Oral Surgeons and the Maryland State Dental Association.

He was elected president of the American Dental Association for a two-year term in 1977.

In an interview at the time with The Evening Sun, he explained that the ADA president is "considered the most powerful dental leader in the world. ... It represents the highest honor and office that can come to a member of his profession."

"He was always speaking out for what he thought was right regarding dental issues. He believed in the affordability of dental care for people and had high standards for the profession," Dr. Stohler said.

In the The Evening Sun interview, Dr. Cappuccio stated that "elder care should be a high priority" with the ADA, and the organization was supporting amendments to the Medicare laws that extended coverage beyond just emergency care.

He also stressed that any national health plan should focus on those who cannot afford to pay for care rather than the wealthy who can afford their own care.

"You don't want the rich to have their health care paid for by the government when they are able to pay for it under a private program of their own," he said.

On another matter, Dr. Cappuccio decried the lack of women in the profession.

"Women traditionally have looked at dentistry as a masculine art and science," he said in the interview. "They have felt you needed physical strength to perform dental procedures. That's been a misconception."

Dr. Cappuccio, who had lectured nationally and internationally, wrote widely on dental matters.

Since 1999, Dr. Cappuccio had headed The Dental Forum, a think tank he founded and whose membership includes approximately 100 dentists from across the U.S.

"He just held a meeting several weeks ago," Dr. Stohler said.

Throughout his life, Dr. Cappuccio garnered numerous awards for his work. In 1978, the University of Maryland gave him the Alumni Association's Distinguished Alumnus Award.

At last month's dental school graduation, he was presented the Dean's Special Recognition Award .

The longtime Ruxton resident enjoyed gardening and golfing.

"His passion in life was his profession," said his daughter, Mary Louise Cappuccio of Hunt Valley.

His wife of 48 years, the former Rocella Bentley, died in 2005.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Monday at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5300 N. Charles St.

Also surviving are a brother, Louis Cappuccio of Watch Hill; three nephews; and three nieces.

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