On June 29, 1990 Saul Schluger passed away. He was 82. One of the unique characters in the world of periodontics, he will be missed but his legacy will linger.
Saul was born in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1908. He attended New York University before entering the University of Louisville School of Dentistry .There, dental histologist Theodore Beust became a personal role model for Saul. After graduation in 1931, Saul returned to Jersey City to open a practice in general dentistry. He was further influenced by two of the prominent periodontists of the day, Arthur H. Merrit and Isadore Hirschfeld. By 1937, Saul had restricted his practice to periodontics and had become one of perhaps 40 self declared specialists in North America.
Saul’s professional career was interrupted by World War II. Assigned to the Seventh Armored Division, the man’s hidden talents surfaced. He became an instructor in mines and demolitions, aerial photography, map reading, and transportation of the sick and wounded, and a mess officer of considerable ingenuity. His hilarious recollections of training exercises in the Mojave Desert attest to the resilience of the US Army.
Hostilities completed, Saul accepted an invitation from Columbia University to administer the first formal specialty program in periodontics. That was 1946 and he served as director for the next 12 years.
In 1958, Saul was offered a challenge he could not resist. The University of Washington beckoned, and this pathfinder started the first program in periodontics west of the Mississipi. Based on his exemplary relationship with colleagues in basic science disciplines, Saul received a training grant from the National Institute for Dental Research to support graduate students enrolled in a three-year Master’s program. Those interested in a clinical certificate of proficiency in periodontics also headed to Seattle. To date, approximately 175 have negotiated the rigors of these programs.
While at Washington, Saul was named Associate dean for Graduate Dental Education and director of Dental Admissions. In the latter position he lobbied aggressively and successfully to attract more women to the profession.
Known as the “bone assassin” to some, Saul was a pioneer of modern periodontal surgical techniques and an innovative designer of instruments; he was an astute clinical observer, and his insights had a major influence on the manner in which patients with acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis were managed.
Over the years, Saul was a frequent visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He lectured extensively in North America, Europe and Asia. His lively debates with contemporaries are classics. To him, a successful meeting was one featuring uninhibited discussion in a search for the truth.
A gifted writer, Saul was also the primary author of a number of texts, one of which was translated into five languages. He was a staunch protector of the English language, chastising those who insisted on “surgurizing”, “provisionalizing”, “distalizing” and “bicuspidizing”.
His honors are numerous. Saul served on as director of the American Board of Periodontology and President of the American Academy of Periodontology. He received the Gold Medal Award from the Academy in recognition of his “outstanding contributions to the understanding and treatment of periodontal diseases”. He was awarded the Medal of Achievement by the Alpha Omega Fraternity. Saul was named as Distinguished Alumnus of Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery. The University of Washington School of Dentistry has undertaken a major fund raising campaign to endow the Saul Schluger Chair in Periodontics.
There was another side to this intellectual competitor. One of the Highlights of the roaring twenties was Saul’s discovery of Helen Alankoff, an English teacher. They were companions since age 18, but the Depression delayed their marriage until 1936. Saul frequently commented on how interesting his days with Helen had been. In 1961 Helen and Saul, both in their 54th year, became the adoptive parents of sisters Karen, Valerie, Susan and Cheryl, ages 7,6,5, and 4. His tolerance certainly was put to the test, but his gift to his new daughters was love and commitment.
Unlike many success stories, Saul was not one-dimensional. Even as a youngster he displayed an insatiable appetite for literature, especially works with a historical or a political theme. He provided a bass voice in a high school production of the Pirates of Penzance- perhaps the only dulcet tones he ever uttered. Helen and Saul spent a lifetime captivated by the opera, the symphony, and the theater, and made frequent pilgrimages to the major art museums of the United States and Europe. In 1968, Saul became the first President of the Henry Art Gallery
Association of the University of Washington and remained active on the Board of Directors for years.
An avid sports fan, Saul was an absolute nut when it came to football and he delighted in reminiscing about the good old days of baseball.
Advancing years failed to slow him: he had no intention of following the ways of the dinosaur. The most recent edition of the textbook was published when Saul was 81. As Professor Emeritus he ventured to the university each morning, lending his sage advice to three weekly seminars. He presented occasional lectures- a favorite entitled “Morning Glories” was dedicated to the short lived therapeutics fads he had encountered in six decades of practice and teaching. A raconteur extraordinaire, he savored coffee breaks and lunches with students, staff, and fellow colleagues. After an animated discussion with me ( and I am sure with many others) he would affectionately retort, “Robert I love you, but you are a pain in the ass!” Such was his style. He was Pappa Saul- teacher, critic and friend.
Dr. Robert H. Johnson