Losing a Legend: HSDM Mourns the Loss of Walter C. Guralnick

September 7, 2017
Losing a Legend: HSDM Mourns the Loss of Walter C. Guralnick

Walter C. Guralnick, DMD41, a pioneer in the field of oral and maxillofacial surgery education who served Harvard for more than seven decades, died Wednesday, September 6 at the age of 100. Dr. Guralnick was a mentor and friend to many at Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) and had a lasting impact in the lives and careers of the School’s students and faculty.

Guralnick, professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery, emeritus, graduated from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine in 1941. After completing an oral surgery residency at Boston City Hospital, he spent four years in the military, serving in the 7th General Hospital in England during World War II.  He returned to Boston in 1946 and started his own oral and maxillofacial surgery practice, later joining the dental school faculty in 1954.

Walter with wife Betty
Betty and Walter Guralnick, 1943
In 1966, Guralnick became professor and chairman of the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at the dental school, a position he held until 1982, developing its reputation for clinical excellence and breakthrough research and training.

Under Guralnick’s leadership, the Faculty of Medicine approved the Harvard two-degree Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery residency program, which has been a model for oral and maxillofacial surgery training in the U.S. since its inception.

The program, approved by the Harvard Faculty of Medicine in 1972, allows HSDM graduates to return to HMS to earn an MD degree with a residency in oral and maxillofacial surgery and general surgery, in addition to a DMD. 

Guralnick believed that oral and maxillofacial surgeons should have the same training as other surgical subspecialties, all of which require a core of general surgical residency. He considered creation of the program his greatest accomplishment. 

Guralnick and Donoff
Dr. Guralnick with Dean Donoff
“Walter Guralnick was a visionary leader in the field of OMFS, and a mentor to me and to so many,” said HSDM Dean Bruce Donoff. “He led his life with integrity and authenticity. He cared deeply about advancing the profession and making a difference in the lives of others. In my own life, he helped guide me as student and a surgeon. When the opportunity to become dean of HSDM arose, it was his advice and council that was instrumental in my decision to take the position. I will miss his friendship, his integrity, and his guidance dearly.”

“Walter Guralnick has been a leading surgeon, teacher, mentor, colleague and friend to countless numbers across our community for many, many decades. His career has been inspirational and his legacy of service is truly extraordinary. We are saddened by his loss and genuinely grateful for all he has achieved,” said HMS Dean George Q. Daley.

Also, in 1966, Guralnick was appointed chief of the oral and maxillofacial surgery service at Massachusetts General Hospital, and became a founding member of what is now known as Delta Dental of Massachusetts, one of the first dental insurance plans in the nation.  He served as its president for 10 years while also contributing as a member of the board of Blue Cross Massachusetts.

MGH Chiefs
Four generations of chiefs: Drs. Donoff, Troulis, Kaban and Guralnick
“He was a dear close friend whose guidance I will always cherish. He was always au courant, referred to the past when it was relevant, and always was an inspiration for the future,” said Maria Troulis, the Walter C. Guralnick Professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and head of the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.

Guralnick’s work was recognized with election to both the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences as well as to the Royal College of Surgeons in 1996.   He was also awarded honorary professorships at medical schools in Shanghai, Chengdu and Xian, China.

In 1980, he led the first delegation of American dentists and oral surgeons on a teaching tour of China under a new exchange program. After witnessing rural areas of China lacking preventative care, in 1985, Guralnick and a group of other dentists established the nonprofit international healthcare group Project Hope to create a program in dental surgery education, and later a program in preventive dentistry.

Guralnick in Shanghai
Dr. Guralnick leading a teaching tour of China, 1989
In 1993, an endowed chair, the Walter Guralnick Professorship in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, was established in his honor at the dental school, and in 2005, at the age of 89, he was honored with the Harvard Medal for distinguished service, only the second dentist to ever have received the prestigious award given by the Harvard Alumni Association. 

"Guralnick was a legend at HSDM, HMS and MGH not only for his clinical contributions and leadership positions but also for his extraordinary personal characteristics. He was warm, friendly, generous with his time, and a friend for life with former students and colleagues. I remember him from my days at as a medical student at HMS and since then as one who had style, compassion, and brilliance that were enviable,” said Barbara McNeil, ’66, the Ridley Watts Professor of Health Care Policy and head of the Department of Health Care Policy.

75th reunion
Dr. Guralnick at his 75th reunion with his daughter Susan, and Dr. Seldin
In 2009 Guralnick received the Arnold K. Maislen Award at New York University and was given the Gavel Medal from the Forsyth Institute. One year later he presented a lecture on the history of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Mass General to a standing-room-only crowd in the Ether Dome.  Among those in the audience were some of Guralnick’s former students, including the current dean of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Bruce Donoff.

In 2016, at his 75th reunion, Harvard School of Dental Medicine established the Walter and Betty Guralnick Scholarship to benefit predoctoral students.

Dr. Guralnick was predeceased by his wife, Betty Marson Guralnick, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 89 after 68 years of marriage.  He is survived by his three children, Peter, Susan and Tom; five grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren.  




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