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Washington State Dental Association

Dr. Bryan Edgar: 2016 WSDA President

    There’s no getting around it: new WSDA President Dr. Bryan Edgar’s life is dominated by dentistry and numbers. His hobby, investing, even hits both marks: he serves on a four-person investment group for the Academy of General Dentistry, and does it very well, thank you. From a $600,000 start ten years ago, the fund is now worth slightly under $14,000,000, entirely under the committee’s direction

    “We really kick butt,” he says with zeal. “We beat almost all the advisors. We live and die by an extensive investment policy, and have even had companies like JP Morgan interested in meeting with us to talk about our strategy.” Edgar has been on the committee eight years, and it has clearly fed his passion for numbers. WSDA Past President Dr. David Minahan has experienced Edgar’s zeal for numbers first hand. “He does get a kick out of the highs and lows of investing. It is a supercharge for him, so it really is a hobby, even if it is in the dental field,” he says. Peter Aaron, WSDA’s Vice President of Finance, has this to say, “Whether serving on the Budget and Finance Committee or on the Board of Directors, Dr. Edgar’s meticulous attention to detail and financial acumen have had a profound impact on our Association. We’re lucky to have someone with his focus and financial expertise in our corner.” 

Extraordinary focus
    Ask people about Edgar, and they talk about his extraordinary focus on all things dental. Former WSDA Board member Dr. Barry Feder, a friend of Edgar’s since their days in the Army Reserve together, says, “I believe that a lot of his leadership ability and focus stems from his time in the military. WSDA is in good stead with him in the lead. As long as I’ve known him, if there’s something about an issue or topic that he doesn’t know, he’ll go and research it. Between serving as Secretary-Treasurer for two terms and his excellent work with the AGD investment committee, he’s probably the best financial person the WSDA has.” 
    Another long-time friend and WSDA Past President, Dr. Jim Ribary, says, “Bryan and I talked about finances in our dental reserve unit, and we’d often talk about investments. He was always fairly aggressive. I’d joke that he was making trades in-between patients. He’s always been very focused at what he does, no matter what it is, but you can bet that it’s dental-related.
     “Everything he does, except time spent with his son and grandchildren, is about dentistry. I’m glad that he’s president because it is a culmination of what he has worked for,” says Ribary. “He’s more involved than any of the rest of us, I think. He doesn’t do anything by accident, like some of us.” 

By the numbers
    Numbers were always Edgar’s strong suit, even back in high school. “I ran for student body treasurer. My interest in finance started then,” he says. “Math was my favorite subject. I had a teacher who taught regular students like me, and he really encouraged all of us to go to college.” That was not a message Edgar was getting at home. His parents hadn’t attended college, and he recalls his mother actively discouraging him from attending. But Edgar was an achiever, an Eagle Scout, a self-starter. In 1967, while in high school, he met an attractive distraction in his German class, Linda Johansen. He was a junior, and she, a sophomore. Smart and athletic, Linda was on the swim team, which Bryan joined so that he could get to know her better. “He wasn’t a great swimmer,” she says, laughing. “He swam the wrong way in the lane to be funny and catch my eye.” It was a tactic that worked, as the couple has been together ever since. “One of my best friends from high school and I both dated Linda,” explains Edgar. “I consider that the first election I ever won.”

Balancing each other
    Linda says she’s the yin to Bryan’s yang. Like Bryan, she attended UWSoD (after teaching for 14 years), and the two now share a successful Federal Way practice. “We’ve been through a lot together and care for one another a great deal, but we’re really polar opposites. Bryan is definitely more of a dominant personality than I am. He likes to take charge, while I’m better at bringing people together and coming to consensus. So we both bring something to the table. He is no-nonsense with our staff over issues like finance, and I tend to be the peacemaker with them. Having said that, Bryan’s lead assistant has been with him for more than 30 years this year. He feels that she has made all the difference in his outlook toward dentistry.”

Career day
    So how did this unlikely dental candidate get his start? There were no dentists in his family.  His father was a lumber man, his mother mostly a stay-at-home mom. “We learned about it at a high school career day,” Edgar explains, “and my best friend and I both decided to become dentists on the spot.” (That was the plan, anyway. His friend never became a dentist, opting for a career in the fire department.) Edgar visited his family dentist in Port Angeles, talked with him about dentistry, and the two became friends. When it was time to go to college, he went to Washington State University. Linda, who was a year behind Bryan, was encouraged by her father to attend UW. “Her brother was the editor of the daily at the UW, and her father wanted her to be close to her brother, and away from boys, especially me,” says Edgar. “What he didn’t know was that I had transferred to UW, and Linda didn’t tell him until the day she left for college.”
 
First Couple of Dentistry
    Still focused on becoming a dentist, Edgar pursued a degree in zoology, graduating with distinction, and only applied to one dental school: UW, which at the time was considered one of the best (if not the best, according to Edgar) in the country. The years there were good for Bryan and Linda, and to this day they honor their alma mater through their prodigious gifts. A UW representative called the pair the “First Couple” of dentistry at the UW, saying, “They have both been members of our Dean’s Club Board and served as Dentistry’s co-chairs for the eight-year UW: Creating Futures Campaign, which raised some $22 million in support for the School. Personally, they’ve donated nearly $500,000 to the School and created three endowments: The Bryan and Linda Edgar Professorship for Microscopic Technologies in Dentistry, the first endowed professorship in Restorative Dentistry; an endowed scholarship to support academically strong students who face significant financial hardship or are struggling to attend dental school as a single parent; and a permanent fund to support dental photography and imaging. Additionally, Bryan has been a class rep (‘76) for the Dental Alumni Association for nearly 40 years and served as Alumni Association president, has served as an affiliate faculty member, and was a member of the search committee for the new Dean three years ago.” 
    David Minahan, himself an ardent supporter and Alumni rep for the UW, says, “I respect his devotion to the profession and to the School of Dentistry. He did a fine job in raising funds for the school. Bryan and Linda truly stepped up to the plate with their giving, and they have a real love of the school. Their gift truly was one of the first major gifts by practicing dentists. The photography gift was ahead of the curve. They knew what they thought would help the school, and their gift went a good way toward expanding their vision.” 
    The Edgars’ giving today is a far cry from Bryan’s humble beginnings. Because his family was in no position to help pay for undergraduate or dental school, he was always on the lookout for ways to finance his degree, and the military was just the ticket. “A lot of students were getting armed services scholarships, and it appealed to me,” he says. “It covered a monthly stipend, plus all of my expenses, and the commitment was year for year.” With three years of dental school and his residency, Edgar was committed to a four-year stint, and served in units that were more combat-oriented, even taking part in one of the first “Jack Frost” exercises in Alaska, where the troops learned cold weather ops. It was -60 F and all operations took place at night. The troops lived in tents outfitted with kerosene stoves placed every 12 feet, and had fire guards on patrol while people slept. Edgar teamed up with the Army physician on base, and the two treated casualties as they came in — mostly dehydration and frostbite cases. 

Reserve life
    Ultimately, Edgar chose to stay in the reserves for 24 years following active duty, and it was one of the best decisions of his life. “I met a lot of wonderful friends, including Jim Ribary and Barry Feder,” he says, “and I learned a lot about dentistry when we got together.” And for a long time, being in the reserves was a worry-free proposition for a dentist. They met up every summer for two weeks and didn’t actually perform much dentistry. As Ribary explains, “We were part of a fairly large dental group, so they didn’t always have patients for us, and they were reluctant to let us use up all of their supplies, as happened once in Alaska. We had the weekends to explore the area and get in trouble, and as officers we had some leeway. It was good fun. We were younger so we’d stay out too late and do dentistry the next day. Bryan was one year ahead of me, so I’d try and get as much advice from him as I could. We were all young dentists with new practices, and I remember that Bryan always brought new ideas to the table, so it was a great learning experience for all of us.” In 1990, during the first Gulf War they were called up to active duty to take over for dentists serving at stateside posts. Ribary went to Fort Stewart, Edgar went to Ft. Rucker in Alabama, and others were sent to Fort Ord. 
   Ribary recalls, “We were spread out and most only did three months, but Bryan was out of his practice for nearly eight months. As I said, Bryan is always really focused on whatever he is doing.” Once he returned to Seattle, Edgar became part of an active duty/reserve duty hybrid experiment until 9/11 happened. “I realized that I might have to go to Iraq, so I retired,” he says. “I could have waited another eight years to retire, but I felt like organized dentistry was more important, and was the place that I could make the bigger difference.”

Making a difference, and then some
    Just before the most recent WSDA House of Delegates, Edgar decided to tally up all his HOD experiences — not just for WSDA, but also the House of the AGD, American Association of Dental Boards, and the ADA. He counted 83 Houses over 20 years. Let that number sink in a bit. For the first 15 years of his career, he wasn’t involved in organized dentistry at all, other than paying his dues and attending the annual session. Then, in 1988 or ’89, a well-known insurance company raised his ire, and Edgar decided to work with the Association to fight the inequity. They won, and Edgar was hooked. He got involved with the Washington Academy of General Dentistry, then in ’96 served on its national board, but opted to return to state service. In 1994, he was appointed to the Dental Quality Assurance Commission and, through that, became involved with the American Association of Dental Boards and WREB. The AADB knew about Edgar’s House experience, and tapped him to be its Parliamentarian, a role he held for 12 years. And while he would have chosen to become involved with WSDA’s board sooner, his service in DQAC precluded that, so he served two terms on the WSDA Budget and Finance Committee. Tired yet? No wonder so many people talk about his focus. 
    In 2002, as he was coming off DQAC he ran for the WSDA Board and won, and started working his way to the chairs, strategically. He explains, “I didn’t want to run against friends, so I always deferred to them. Then, when they were finally looking at eliminating the Vice President position, I knew I could no longer wait.” Edgar has the distinction of being the WSDA’s last standing veep. Even now, as WSDA president, he has a full schedule. He’s also Speaker of the House for the AGD and serves on its Board. Ever focused, Edgar mapped out the year with military precision. “I had to review my schedule this year for conflicts between my commitment to AGD, the WSDA Board, and all of the component visitations,” he explains. “When I laid out the grid to see if I could make the year work if I became president, the only date that conflicted on was our officer retreat in October. Not even one board meeting conflicted. I considered it a good omen.” Linda is a big help, too. They share a thriving practice in Federal Way, not far from their home, and she works to keep the couple in synch, just as he did when she served as AGD President two years ago. They truly work to complement one another.

The year ahead
    Not surprisingly, in his year as President, Edgar would like to focus on the finances of the Association, having helped WSDA achieve its current robust fiscal health. “We’re lucky that we can keep our dues the same by using money that we have socked away. Part of it is that the market has been strong, staff has tightened their belts, and the reserve fund has remained robust because we were able to lease out the Fourth Avenue space,” he says. He’d like to continue that trend and develop new sources of non-dues revenue to deliver services without raising dues for our members. Edgar is hopeful that the association will be able to work with lawmakers to enforce the laws of the state in regard to the ownership of dental practices, and create or modify legislation to allow DSOs to provide some services. As for the perennial issue of access, he says, “I believe that we already have the solution to the access problem in the state, but they’re untapped. Increasing Medicaid, adding residencies, building the RIDE program, and increasing loan forgiveness programs will all help solve the problem of access, but dental therapists won’t. And, hopefully, the new curriculum at the UW will help resolve some of the access issue in the city.” 
    Long-term, Edgar has his eye on insurance reforms that might address the reimbursement issues that hurt our members. Jim Ribary wants Bryan to shift his focus a bit, saying, “Have fun meeting people. It doesn’t have to be all business, it can be a lot of fun. It’s a fleeting year. It takes a lot of work to get there, and it takes a lot of time. Enjoy it as much as you can!”

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