A tribute to Sally McKenzie, a giant in the dental industry

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The unexpected death of Sally McKenzie (1951-2020) on September 1 sent shock waves through the dental community. I couldn't believe it was true. We had just had the best conversation in July. She was excited about doing virtual consulting and training. Pandemic or not, she wouldn't let a virus stop her from helping dentists.

Sally McKenzie.Sally McKenzie.

Heart failure in her sleep at her home in Tarpon Springs, FL, silenced the passion and the purpose.

Fifty years of service to the dental community and thousands of lives changed for the better is her legacy.

I first learned of Sally sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s through her practice management articles published in dental magazines. I would use the printed publications to train front desk people. Occasionally, I would march back to my dentist employer and show him an article and say, "We need to do this in our office."

When I had the opportunity to hear her speak, I was amazed by her candid, humorous, and straight-from-the-hip honesty. She would build immediate rapport with the audience of dentists and dental staff because she had walked their walk and could relate to their struggles. Sally was in huge demand as a speaker everywhere, and it seemed that everyone knew her.

In early 2000, I learned that Sally had moved to La Jolla, CA, from Ohio to build her consulting and training business. She was looking for a dental business trainer for her dental career center, so I applied. I was nervous and excited, like I was meeting a famous movie star.

Sally was larger than life as she commanded the room. She gave me a personality temperament test, scrutinized my resume, and drilled me about my skills. Sally's clients were her world. She was dedicated to their success and was always available to speak to them whenever they needed her. She made it clear that she was looking for someone who shared her passion for service and dedication to the dental community. So began our 16-year professional relationship that has been challenging and rewarding beyond words.

Ernest Hemingway once said, "Courage is grace under pressure." When I think of Sally, I think of that quote. My proof is an F2 tornado that hit the Hinman Dental Meeting at the Georgia World Congress Center, the Omni Hotel, and CNN, causing significant damage in downtown Atlanta on March 14, 2008. Our rooms were on the highest floor (15th) of the Omni Hotel. The sirens went off at 9:30 p.m., and we heard a freight-train sound and the violence of wind and breaking glass.

I couldn't open the door to my room because the hotel was in the tornado; it was sucked shut. I called Sally in her room, and she answered. I didn't know what to do. After all, I'm from the coast of southern California. We don't have tornadoes. She just laughed and said, "Go into the bathroom, into the tub. It will pass shortly, and then let's meet in the hallway." She was as calm and collected as if we were meeting for lunch.

I will be forever grateful to Sally for giving me the most significant break in my dental career -- the gift of trusting me with her clients and mentoring me to learn the business of helping dentists and their teams achieve excellence in practice success.

Belle DuCharme has been a professional writer, speaker, and dental training consultant for the dental profession for the past several decades. Her long career includes clinical and business practice management and the development of systems customized to each practice's needs. She can be reached at belle.m.ducharme@gmail.com.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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