Dr. Joseph Giardina, a retired Baltimore County dentist who was an early advocate for understanding the educational needs of dyslexic students, died of kidney failure Sept. 9 at his Phoenix, Baltimore County, home. He was 82.
Born in Baltimore and raised on West Fayette Street, he was a 1948 graduate of Polytechnic Institute, where he played football. He remained active in the school's alumni association. While in the Army and serving in Germany, he also competed on a military football team.
He earned a degree at the University of Maryland, College Park and was a 1960 graduate of the University of Maryland Dental School.
As a young graduate, he participated in a program underwritten by the American Society of Dentistry for Children. Working at a University of Maryland Dental School clinic, he taught students to be dental assistants. He was active in the state chapter of the Society of Dentistry for Children.
He opened a private practice in Baltimore County and worked from his Jarrettsville Pike home for many years.
"Joe was exceptionally easy to talk to," said a colleague and friend of more than 50 years, Dr. Frank Kihn, a fellow dentist who lives in Timonium. "He was a good instructor, too. He had an excellent sense of humor."
Family members said his practice included numerous Baltimore County families, whose members called him Dr. Joe.
"You would not say he was a comedian, but he could make people laugh," said his daughter, Rosalie Taormino of Phoenix. "His patients said they used to be afraid to go to a dentist, but once they started coming to him, they looked forward to his slips for ice cream cones."
About 35 years ago, Dr. Giardina and his wife, the former Ruth Hart, became concerned when their children encountered major trouble with reading while enrolled at Carroll Manor Elementary School. One of their children could not read, but she was nevertheless promoted to the seventh grade.
The Giardinas sought help outside the Baltimore County school system and soon became members of the Metropolitan Baltimore Chapter of the Association for Children with Learning Disabilities. They became persistent advocates for educating dyslexic students after they realized that their six children had learning disabilities. They met with Robert M.N. Crosby, the author of "The Waysiders," who advised them to band together with others and fight for educational reform.
Dr. Giardina and his wife obtained legal counsel and sued the Baltimore County school system, as well as the state of Maryland.
"Our fight did not go to court," said his wife. "But it took five years."
She said they were ultimately compensated for the money they spent sending their children to the Jemicy School and other private schools. They also paid for tutors.
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"They were one of the first families to challenge the system to provide appropriate services for children with learning disabilities," said Ann Vinup, a Parkville resident who is chairwoman of the research committee of the National Learning Disabilities Association. "At that time, if you didn't fit into what the public schools system had to offer. You had to pay a private school and tutors."
Mrs. Giardina said they began their dispute with school authorities reluctantly.
"Initially, Joe was reluctant to start the process, but once he realized how important the cause was, he was the leader of the band. He was a man in control," his wife said. "We wrote what seemed like a million letters together to school authorities. We were always together on this point."
Dr. Giardina enjoyed sports and had been a Baltimore Colts season ticket holder. He also liked the outdoors and hiking. Family members said he preferred to spend his time with them, often on extended family outings at a mountain home in Virginia.
A Mass was offered Thursday at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Timonium.
In addition to his wife of 53 years and daughter, survivors include two sons, John Giardina of Towson and Joseph "Jody" Giardina of Glen Arm; three other daughters, Theresa "Terry" Strader of Joppa, Andrea Mace of Forest Hill and Marie Diane "Mardi" Adams of Phoenix; two brothers, Frank Giardina of Glen Arm and Vince Giardina of Port Orange, Fla.; two sisters, Grace Dietz of Timonium and Sarah Giardina of Glen Arm; and 11 grandchildren.