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Researcher remembered for contributions to dentistry succumbs to COVID-19 complications

Dr. Leo M. Sreebny, Ph.D., dies at age 98

April 10, 2020

By David Burger

 Photo of Leo Sreebny
Dr. Sreebny
Seattle — Dr. Leo M. Sreebny, Ph.D., who had a long and distinguished career in academia as a professor of dentistry and researcher, particularly in issues related to saliva and dry mouth, died April 5 from complications of COVID-19 at age 98.

Dr. Sreebny established a new Department of Oral Pathology — later the department of oral biology — at the University of Washington School of Dentistry, and in 1967, he established the Center for Research in Oral Biology and served as its director, according to his son, Daniel Sreebny. In 1975, Dr. Sreebny and his wife left Washington and went to Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine, where he served as dean until 1979, and then as professor until his retirement in 2005.

After moving back to Seattle in 2006, Dr. Sreebny continued to author numerous academic articles and papers, and co-edited the 2010 book, “Dry Mouth, The Malevolent Symptom: A Clinical Guide.” He was active until right before his death, Mr. Sreebny said, joking that his father liked being known as the “spit doctor.”

Dr. Mary R. Truhlar, dean of the Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine, sent a message to the university community upon learning of Dr. Sreebny’s passing.

“Dr. Sreebny was a passionate advocate for research and innovation,” Dr. Truhlar wrote. “He encouraged discovery for hundreds within our community through his establishment and generous support of the annual Leo and Mickey Sreebny Lectureship and Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine Research Symposium. Dr. Sreebny’s impressive career — spanning from his military service in World War II to his numerous academic papers — is worth celebrating. Personally, Dr. Sreebny was genuine and kind, known within our community for his warmth and his backing of our students and their academic pursuits, particularly in the name of research. It is a testament to his legacy that his namesake day of research will live on within the school of dental medicine.”

Born in 1922 in the Bronx, New York, Dr. Sreebny was the son of immigrants from Ukraine. After graduating from high school at the age of 15, he attended the City College of New York for one year, then went west to study at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign then at the University of Illinois at Chicago for dental school, according to his son.

During his last quarter in Urbana, he met his future bride, Mathilda “Mickey” Sternfeld. They wed in 1945, the year he received his dental degree, and were married for 64 years until her death in 2009, Mr. Sreebny said.

During World War II, Dr. Sreebny served in both the Army and the Navy, including serving in Guam for two years, where his wife joined him and taught English while making their home in a Quonset hut, according to his obituary.

After the war, the couple returned to Chicago, where Dr. Sreebny earned a master’s degree in pharmacology and a Ph.D. in medical pathology, both at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

His son Daniel said that his father used to say, “One of my troubles is that I like so many things.”

“He was interested in everyone and everything,” said Mr. Sreebny, who said that one of his first jobs was taking care of his father’s lab rats.

Dr. Sreebny was an accomplished pianist and accordion player, with his music ranging from classical and jazz to Yiddish folk songs and Hebrew melodies, his son said. He played tennis and bridge, made wine, adored opera, loved to swim and walk and was an avid fisherman, boater and gardener. He traveled the world with his wife and was passionate about his Jewish identity, being involved in Jewish activities throughout his life, Mr. Sreebny said.

Donations in Dr. Sreebny’s memory may be made to the Leo and Mickey Sreebny Memorial Scholarship in Jewish Studies at the University of Washington. Checks should be made payable to the UW Foundation with Sreebny Memorial Scholarship on the memo line. Mail to the UW Stroum Center for Jewish Studies, c/o Sarah Zaides Rosen, associate director, Thomson Hall, Box 353650, Seattle, WA 98195.