Dr. Vincent G. Kokich, one of the School of Dentistry’s most illustrious alumni and among the world’s pre-eminent dental educators, passed away on July 24 after collapsing at his home in Gig Harbor, Wash., apparently from a heart attack. He was 68.
Dr. Kokich, an alumnus and affiliate professor of orthodontics at the School, was a leading advocate of interdisciplinary dentistry. He spread that message through a quarter-century of lectures, sometimes on his own but mostly in joint appearances with fellow faculty members Dr. Frank Spear and Dr. David Mathews. The three were prominent figures on the dental lecture circuit, making presentations to enthusiastic audiences worldwide.
Dr. Kokich also helped to solidify the UW’s reputation as a premier center of orthodontics education and training, and at the time of his death was editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics. He was also a former president of the American Board of Orthodontics and the American Academy of Esthetic Dentistry.
“Vince Kokich was a giant in the field of dental education,” said Dean Joel Berg in a message to faculty, staff and students on Wednesday.
Dr. Kokich was one of the School’s most ardent and devoted supporters for nearly 30 years. In 1996, he and Dr. Peter Shapiro helped to establish the Kokich/Shapiro Endowed Scholar Fund to bring distinguished visiting scholars in the field of orthodontics to the UW. Dr. Kokich was also a major contributor to the work of the UW Orthodontics Alumni Association and a leader in the Association’s recent successful campaign to renovate the Orthodontics clinic. He also served on the School of Dentistry’s Dean’s Club Board and the UW Foundation Board, and he and his wife, Marilyn, were recognized as UW Benefactors and members of the Henry Suzzallo Society.
In 2009, Dr. Kokich and his two lecture partners dedicated one of their final joint appearances to raising money to establish the Kokich/Mathews/Spear Endowed Fund for Academic Leadership in Dentistry to elevate the School’s quality of teaching, and added substantial personal pledges to the proceeds from the lecture.
“The world has lost one of its finest people, and the orthodontic profession has lost one of its greatest talents,” said Dr. Greg Huang, Chair of the Department of Orthodontics. “We have all lost a friend and colleague – someone who inspired us to dream big, to strive for excellence in all our endeavors, and, through his life, led by example.”
Dr. Huang said that Dr. Kokich’s sudden death came as an even greater blow because he had been preparing to return to an active role with the Orthodontics faculty. Dr. Kokich had retired from his Tacoma practice about three years ago, but had begun the process of renewing his dental license to return to the clinic floor at the UW, Dr. Huang said.
“This is a huge personal as well as a professional loss for those who knew him. Vince was not only a brilliant teacher, but a man of enormous warmth and kindness,” Dean Berg said.
Dr. Kokich received his DDS in 1971 and his MS and certification in orthodontics in 1974, all from the UW. His interest in interdisciplinary dentistry was sparked by his early professional association with Tacoma’s Dr. Ralph O’Connor, who in 1984 brought in Dr. Kokich and seven other dentists to form the Northwest Network for Dental Excellence. The group’s initial makeup reflected its team approach to treatment planning: Dr. O’Connor was a general dentist, and the team also included an orthodontist (Dr. Kokich), two oral surgeons, two endodontists, a periodontist, a pediatric dentist and a prosthodontist.
Dr. Kokich also preached the value of realistic treatment planning. “Perfection is a word that should never belong in dentistry,” he said in a 2009 feature article in the UW Dental Alumni News. “My emphasis is that if you have a patient that presents to you at 50 or 60 years of age, that has an existing malocclusion that’s worked for them, how can I make a judgment that that’s wrong when it’s worked for 50 or 60 years? I need to be realistic, to not change everything simply because it seems to be more ideal, when we can’t prove that.”
Dr. Kokich was an esteemed journal editor and active researcher. During his career, he published dozens of book chapters and articles in addition to delivering more than 900 presentations on interdisciplinary dentistry and on the relationship of orthodontics to esthetics, periodontics, implants and restorative dentistry. In 2005, he was named Distinguished Alumnus by the UW Dental Alumni Association.
A funeral Mass is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, July 30, at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Parish, 7112 S. 12th St., Tacoma. Survivors include Dr. Kokich’s wife of more than 40 years, Marilyn, and their son, Dr. Vincent O. Kokich, also a UW dental alumnus and affiliate faculty member.
“It is incredibly difficult to measure this loss,” Dean Berg said in his message. “Vince Kokich will be missed profoundly by all of us.”