The meaningful work
UTHealth Dental Branch alumnus William R. “Bill” Birdwell, D.D.S., of Bryan, Texas drew a standing ovation from nearly 190 guests at a donor-recognition dinner December 10, 2009, at the InterContinental Hotel. They had listened in pin-drop silence as he described his reasons for supporting the school’s Open to Health fundraising drive, despite being a somewhat disgruntled graduate in 1973.
“If you knew me then, you would have seriously doubted that I would ever be standing before you asking others to consider making a commitment similar to ours,” he said, speaking also for his wife Susan. “But it is in the later years of our lives that we see the early years more clearly . . . and I grew to appreciate my dental school education.”
The meaningful work, flexible hours and financial rewards of dentistry are significant, Birdwell said. “It is a profession second to none: To work an eight-hour day, while improving the health and self esteem of your patients; to enjoy an income that provides for your family and allows you to be there for every important event in their lives . . . Dentistry has made it all possible.”
But it was the accidental death of his son, Will, that revealed a deeper bond with his dental colleagues and classmates. Recalling those grief-filled days in 1999, Birdwell said more than 1,000 people attended his son’s visitation on a Sunday night and the service the following Monday. “Aside from Will’s friends, the group that was most represented was alumni of the UTDB . . . taking time away from their practices and out of their lives to be there for Susan and me, breathing their songs into our hearts,” he said, alluding to a favorite poem, The Arrow and the Song, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. “So you see, the decision to make a substantial gift for this great purpose was an easy one for us to make.
“. . . Susan and I embrace the words of the poet who said, ‘We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.’ We believe that giving is as basic a human need as food and water . . . We will not be given a second chance to live our lives over. We have one brief opportunity – our lifetime on earth – to use our resources to make a difference.
“I have no doubt that what happens inside the walls of this new school will help establish it as the number-one dental school in the world. We can make that happen with gifts to this campaign and with gifts to the alumni foundation for the endowment of scholarships and professorships.
“Let us be overcome by the need to give, so that the songs we breathe will be found in the hearts of future generations of alumni and students. Let this be the torch that is our privilege to bear."