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Dr. Al Guay to receive ADA Distinguished Service Award

Though he dismisses the notion, he has gained an identity over the years as dentistry's Wise Man On The Hill, one who sees beyond the horizon, understands what he sees and is able to interpret those observations, clearly and cogently, for the rest of us.

"Well, it's not exactly like that," he says, amused and a bit embarrassed by the image of himself as a soothsayer. "It’s been a lot of work, mostly behind the scenes—a lot of research, a lot of reading, a lot of connecting the dots, a lot of projections on what could happen, might happen.".

Dr. Guay 2012 DSA: Dr. Al Guay will receive the award Oct. 19 in San Francisco.
That practical approach to his role as ADA chief policy advisor (emeritus since his semiretirement in January) has earned Dr. Albert H. Guay an abiding respect and appreciation at dentistry’s highest levels—and it is about to earn him the ADA’s highest award.

At the June meeting of the Board of Trustees, ADA President William Calnon and the Board surprised Dr. Guay with an announcement: he had been chosen to receive the ADA Distinguished Service Award for 2012. Presented annually, the DSA is the highest honor conferred by the Board of Trustees.

An ADA member for more than 50 years, Dr. Guay, 77, will receive the award during the House of Delegates meeting at Annual Session in San Francisco.

The Board’s resolution nominating him for the DSA noted that, as policy advisor, Dr. Guay "monitored the dental and general health environment and identified and researched emerging and potential future issues of concern to the profession and the Association."

He also oversaw operations of the Health Policy Resources Center and the Office of Strategic Planning and Consulting; managed the Hillenbrand Roundtable and Fellowship; and assisted other ADA agencies with policy matters. His curriculum vitae and list of published articles runs to nine full pages.

A 1960 cum laude graduate of Boston's Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, Dr. Guay earned a certificate of training in orthodontics from the Eastman Dental Center at the University of Rochester in 1966. After four years of active service in the Army Dental Corps, he practiced orthodontics in the Boston area for the next 26 years.

"The kids I treated knew my kids, and I knew their families," he recalls of his practice days in Wakefield, Mass. "One of my problems was, kids would bring three or four friends. They'd see other kids coming in and nobody would go home. The place was always packed—one patient and 11 friends. That was good, though. I enjoyed that very much."

While practicing orthodontics, Dr. Guay also taught part time at Tufts, Emerson College and the Boston University School of Medicine. Having joined the ADA in 1960, he soon became active in organized dentistry, eventually rising to vice president of the Massachusetts Dental Society. He was in line for MDS president in 1991 when, instead, he was elected to represent the 1st Trustee District (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut) on the ADA Board of Trustees.

A year later, then-Executive Director Thomas J. Ginley invited Dr. Guay to join the ADA staff as director of the Council on Dental Practice, later to serve as assistant and then associate executive director for the Division of Dental Practice and Professional Affairs.

"I worked with great people in Dental Practice," Dr. Guay recalls. "I still cherish those relationships."

It appears the feeling is mutual.

"Dr. Guay may be small in stature, but he is huge in his love of dentistry and his love of humanity," says Delanor Tucker, senior manager, administrative services, in Dental Practice.

A 42-year member of the ADA staff, Ms. Tucker reported to Dr. Guay through most of the 1990s. "He had my back, and I had his," she recalls.

For a long-term veteran of private dental practice, becoming an ADA staff member—an employee—presented certain challenges.

"I couldn’t get used to having a boss," Dr. Guay remembers. "Before, if I wanted to take Friday off, I took Friday off. With a boss, I had to ask somebody, and they might say no. It took me about 10 years to get used to that."

In the span of roughly 30 years after dental school, Dr. Guay became a serious student of his chosen field, exploring key topics on dentistry’s agenda in great depth: practice management, the dental marketplace, insurance industry practices, Medicare and Medicaid, other government programs and regulations, quality assurance, access to care, evidence-based dentistry and more.

His deepening knowledge of the profession and its environment prepared him for his appointment in 2001 to the newly created post of chief policy advisor—an open-ended assignment calling for him to examine the issues of the day and to peer down the road at what might be coming.

"My role was to look around, to find things the ADA should know about and maybe get involved in," he notes. "I would investigate and report to the Board, with recommendations on what we should do."

The reports and recommendations Dr. Guay drafted over the years run the gamut of nearly every issue and challenge confronting the profession for the past two decades.

Dr. L. Jackson Brown, a close friend and former colleague of Dr. Guay's, was last year’s recipient of the Distinguished Service Award.

"I met Al Guay before I came to work for the ADA but didn’t really get to know him until I joined the ADA staff," notes Dr. Brown, a past associate executive director who oversaw the ADA Health Policy Resources Center from 1996 to 2007.

Of Dr. Guay he adds, "He knows the issues confronting dentistry intimately, the way only an individual who has practiced the profession, has engaged in volunteer activities at the highest level and has a profound thirst for knowledge can know them. The profession has been fortunate to have Al Guay, and I have been fortunate to know him."

Over the years, Dr. Guay fathered five children, all grown now, all sporting resumes that would make any parent proud: Jeffrey, an orthodontist; Laura, a pediatrician and AIDS researcher; Cynthia, an MBA and investment manager; Lisa, an MBA, engineer and recruiter of high-level executives; Pamela, a Ph.D. in molecular biology and genetics.

Dr. Guay still puts in three days a week at the ADA, investigating topics of interest to the Association and its leaders.

His wife, Carolyn, is a retired teacher who conducts tours for children and adolescents at the Art Institute of Chicago as a volunteer. She has two grown daughters, Tara and Trissa. Between them, Carolyn and Al have 14 grandchildren. When not otherwise occupied with their extended family, they enjoy traveling and visiting art museums around the country.

While in his mid-60s, Dr. Guay took up golf and still plays when he can find the time. About eight years ago, still relatively new to the game, he scored a hole-in-one, confirming what every weekend hacker knows about golf: There is an element of luck.