[Editor’s Note: Robert C. Fazio, DMD, a former faculty member with DOCS Education, died of an intracranial hemorrhage on April 29th of this year, age 68. An outstanding educator, clinician, author, and public speaker, Dr. Fazio only a month earlier taught a course, “Medicine, Dentistry and Drugs,” for a thousand registrants at the 106th Thomas P. Hinman Dental Meeting in Atlanta.
As always, those in attendance were enthralled.
The author of this memorial tribute, Dr. Leslie S.T. Fang, is the esteemed physiology and pharmacology instructor at all DOCS Education conferences. Drs. Fang and Fazio, close friends since medical school, are co-authors of The Ultimate Cheat Sheets: The Practical Guide for Dentists, a chair-side resource that thousands of dentists rely on daily to have up-to-date information at hand when they need to make critical decisions.
By Leslie Shu-Tung Fang, MD, PhD
It is difficult to envision that my lifelong friend and collaborator, Bob Fazio, has had an early and untimely death. This is clearly a great loss to friends and family, to dental education, and to the dental profession.
It is also an immense personal loss to me.
I was having dinner a month ago at Les Jardins de L’Espadon - Ritz Paris when I realized that the last time I was there was with Bob and his wonderful wife Barbara in 2011. They were watching Midnight in Paris (both Bob and Barb were avid movie buffs) back in Connecticut and decided on the spur of the moment to catch the next plane to Paris.
That night, the dinner conversation was lively and animated and revolved around anything and everything. Before the end of the evening, we were buying drinks for people at the next table. Bob and Barb were the quintessential embodiments of the phrase “living life to the fullest.”
It is therefore even more regrettable that the lives of these loving people were cut short. (Barb predeceased Bob in January 2017, just two days after her 67th birthday, following a heroic 14-year struggle with uterine cancer.)
I have many acquaintances and very few friends. Bob and Barbara were definitely amongst my lifelong friends.
On the first day at Harvard Medical School, the morning lectures were delivered by three Nobel Laureates, delineating the course material to be covered that year. The elegance, the eloquence, and the impeccable organization of content were astounding. By early afternoon, we were all questioning whether or not we actually belonged in that intimidating institute of medical prowess.
We dragged ourselves into the dungeon of the building and found our way into the assigned seats in the crowded laboratory. The instructor, a noted pathologist known for his humor, looked at the class and announced: “Don’t be intimidated by the Nobel Laureates! The actual learning in Harvard Medical School happens not in the lecture halls. Look to your left, look to your right: these are the people who will actually be teaching you.”
I never got to look to my right because when I looked to the left, there was this big hug-a-bear that gave me a big hug and said, “We are going to be best friends for life.” Little did I know that his prophecy was going to become a fact.
We also took the instructor’s statement about the fact that we are going to be teaching each other to a level that even the professor probably did not foresee.
After the first two weeks, we realized that all of the lecture material was actually in a carefully prepared workbook. We then decided that the best way to master the material was to use the workbook given to us and teach each other.
Five of us commandeered a conference room at the Countway Library of Medicine, bringing coffee and bagels, and each would be responsible for teaching the others a specific section every day. Peer pressure mandated that all four of us would be diligent in understanding and explaining the material that we were responsible for imparting to the rest of the group. For the remainder of our careers, we were firm believers that teaching is the best way to learn. The five of us consistently ranked at the top of the class of 120 students.
Barb Fazio was the key to our social interactions outside of the classroom. She would organize dinners and outings and work sessions. The Fazio’s living room became the extension of our study cubicle in Countway; where we would relax and work at the same time. We all believed that our mastering of the cardiac examination was a result of her organizing a “heart sound” session with my bewildered 8-year-old son as the “patient.”
We had innumerable discussions where we would project how we would continue to work together after graduation. In the beginning, it was hard to envision how a budding periodontist would collaborate with an ambitious nephrologist.
During these conversations, however, we began to realize that the complexity of the medical and dental fields had created a need for there to be a bridge between the two disciplines.
Our conversations always imagined that a medically complex patient would show up in the dental office at 4 PM on a Friday afternoon with an urgent issue. We would then map out: “What does the dentist need to know about the medical conditions?” “How does that change the dental management?” Knowing that it would be difficult to access a medical consultation given the scenario, we would point out the nuances that the dental professional needed to be aware of and guide them through the dental intervention.
These sessions became the tenet of our lifelong collaborations: The Principle and Practice of Oral Medicine; Oral Medicine Secrets; Interactive Learning in Antibiotic Therapy; and The Ultimate Cheat Sheets were all based on this need to provide useful information about the medical conditions of the patients to be able to provide optimal care safely.
Bob was the consummate teacher.
He was engaging, and knowledgeable, and had a unique ability to gauge his audience. He was perpetually voted the top speaker on the dental circuit. He would be onstage every chance that he could because Bob was acutely aware of the way that he was improving patient welfare in the day-to-day practice of the dental professional.
I vividly remember the last time we were onstage together. Bob, as per his usual style, was wandering amongst the audience and I was leaning against the lectern. I would start a sentence and he would finish it. His command of the content was such that he never had to look at his slide. Bob was particularly impressive when questions were raised. He would dissect each question into the medical and the dental components; had me address the medical issues while he elaborated on the proper way to address the dental issues given the medical constraints.
The audience positively responded to his warmth.
It reminded me of the last time that we were flying together. Before the end of the trip, Bob was friends with everybody in First Class and was buying everybody drinks. (Drinks were free, incidentally.) He had the same humor and magical touch with his professional audiences.
By far the greatest accomplishment that Bob and Barb had was the family values they instilled in their two – now adult – children, Daniele “Danny” and Alexandra “Ali.”
I have always been impressed with the poise with which the Fazio children carry themselves. Bob and Barbara’s lives were inextricably interwoven with those of their children and grandchildren.
The closeness of the family was most apparent at times of adversity. During the days that we spent together at Bob and Barbara’s bedside during their hospitalizations – especially Barb’s and her extended battle with uterine cancer – the strength of the family bond was impressively apparent. The children were always in command of the clinical issues and were analytical and thorough in their decisions. My only regret was that I had to see what a wonderful job Bob and Barbara did during such periods of adversity.
During the past months since Bob’s passing, I have had interactions with so many people who knew Bob and Barbara, and it is clear that our friendship was interwoven in many other ways. A fair number of my patients were referrals from Bob; a lot of the dental professionals I collaborate with were introductions from Bob; many of the academic professionals I interact with were close friends of Bob’s. Each one of them has absolutely nothing but fond memories of their interactions with him.
It is clear that Bob and Barbara Fazio have touched people’s lives in a very special way, as they did mine.