Obituaries

obituary

Dr. S. Walter Askinas, former dental school executive dean at Tufts, dies at 92

Dr. S. Walter Askinas
Dr. S. Walter Askinas

When patients sat in Dr. Samuel Walter Askinas’s dental chair, they got more than just a crown, a denture, or a dental implant. They received comprehensive dental treatment.

He went by Walter, or Walt for short, and he had a specialty, as so many medical professionals do. But he was also a skilled general practitioner, former colleagues say, and even more skilled at passing those techniques along to students and dentists he mentored.

“He really taught more than just the procedure. He taught patient care,” said Dr. Lonnie Norris, a dean emeritus at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, where he worked with Dr. Askinas for several years. “He was full-scope with patient care, and not just a specific procedure.”

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Dr. Askinas, a prosthodontist who taught at Tufts for about 14 years and spent about two years as the dental school’s executive dean, died on April 2 in his Boynton Beach, Fla., home. He was 92 and his health had been failing.

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He began teaching at Tufts in 1983 as an associate professor in the department of restorative dentistry. Rising quickly in the ranks, Dr. Askinas became the department’s chairman by 1987.

In the mid-1990s, he served as the director of postgraduate prosthodontics, a specialty that focuses on designing and fitting artificial dental replacements.

After about a year and a half, he was appointed the executive dean of the dental school. In that role, he made academic and patient care decisions, worked on the school’s budget, and organized a variety of other administrative operations, according to Norris, who was the dental school’s interim dean during that time.

“I could always depend on Walter for the truth, and people could always depend on him for his integrity,” said Norris, who lives in Wellesley.

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Norris said Dr. Askinas was a “workaholic,” an early riser who often was the first to arrive at the school in the morning.

“He’d come in at 5 a.m. because he personally wanted to look at each student’s clinical work and to make sure they were providing the highest quality patient care,” Norris said.

Dr. Askinas, who later in life lived in Florida full-time for about five years after having divided his time between Florida and Avon, Conn., was born in Hartford, Conn.

The only child of Abraham Askinas and the former Jennie Smith, he graduated from Weaver High School in Hartford. He received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Yale University in 1945, and graduated in 1949 from the New York University College of Dentistry.

Dr. Askinas interned at Philadelphia General Hospital and later attended the dental branch of the University of Texas for a certificate in basic sciences for his prosthodontics specialty. He served a residency in the field at Lackland Air Force Base Wilford Hall Medical Facility in Texas.

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Between stints in post-graduate education, Dr. Askinas had a private dental practice, said his stepson, Jonathan Herman of Decatur, Ga.

Dr. Askinas joined the Air Force in the mid-1950s and served in a variety of dental roles on several bases, among them Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire, and Clark Air Base in the Philippines.

He was a “superb dentist” and a perfectionist at times, said Richard Zitrick of Sinking Spring, Pa., who met Dr. Askinas in 1963 when they worked at Andrews Air Force Base. Dr. Askinas was in charge of prosthodontic training of the interns there, and later was in charge of the prosthodontics residency.

Dr. Askinas was better at general dentistry “than the people who did that for a lifetime,” Zitrick said. “He wanted everything to be perfect.”

After serving as director of dental services at Travis Air Force Base in California, Dr. Askinas retired as a colonel and began his career at Tufts.

He was a member of several local and national dental organizations, including the American Prosthodontic Society, the American Dental Association, and the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States.

In 1950, he married Frances Roslyn Cooper. They were together through his Air Force career and much of time at Tufts. She died of cancer in 1993.

A mutual friend subsequently reconnected Dr. Askinas with a former high school classmate, Mae Herman, whose husband had recently died. Dr. Askinas was living in Marblehead at the time and she was living in Connecticut. They hit it off and married in 1996.

When Dr. Askinas left Tufts in 1997, they moved to Florida and he began working at Nova Southeastern University’s College of Dental Medicine, where he chaired the department of restorative dentistry. He also was a professor in that department and in the department of prosthodontics. He retired in 2008.

Herman said meeting Dr. Askinas was a second chance for them both.

“When you’re older and have a second marriage, it’s really special if you make it, if it works, so that was wonderful,” she said. “What a special guy he was and how thankful I was that he loved me — and he did, and he showed it. He was very romantic and very sweet. It just made for a wonderful marriage, so I’m just thankful to have had that.”

Jonathan Herman said his stepfather was a “seamless” addition to the family. He added that although Dr. Askinas never had children of his own, he took on the role of a grandparent effortlessly, and he proudly became a “fix-the-bicycle grandfather.”

Mae Herman said she and Dr. Askinas valued their Jewish heritage, but were not extremely observant, though they “had a very soft spot in our heart for Israel.”

Outside of work, Dr. Askinas was an avid reader and loved listening to classical music, friends and family said. As with his dentistry, even in the kitchen he was a perfectionist, his stepson recalled. Dr. Askinas sometimes spent 45 minutes just to cut everything “to the right specifications.”

He took pride in staying active, waking early to exercise at a health club and riding his bike into his mid-80s. Dr. Askinas also had a deep knowledge of cars and an extensive pen collection, which he left to one of his grandchildren.

A service has been held for Dr. Askinas, who in addition to his wife and stepson leaves two other stepsons, Dr. Barry Herman of Philadelphia and Dr. Richard Herman of North Easton; and four grandchildren.

Dr. Askinas had plenty he could have bragged about, but he was humble, family and friends recalled. His wife said she was amazed by his mind and felt like he always had all the answers.

“I called him my dictionary,” she said, “because if I needed an answer to anything, he was always there for me.”

Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com.