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Dr. Ralph E. McDonald

Obituary for Dr. Ralph E. McDonald

May 12, 1920 - February 20, 2015
Sanibel, Florida | Age 94


Ralph E. McDonald
Dean Emeritus of the Indiana University School of Dentistry, 94, of Indianapolis and later Sanibel Island, Florida, and Bloomington, Indiana, passed away on February 20, 2015. Dr. McDonald, an internationally renowned pediatric dental educator, was pivotal in developing what is now known as the pediatric dentistry graduate program in the department of pediatric dentistry at Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis and is widely regarded as "the Father of Pediatric Dentistry." He authored or co-authored at least 21 textbooks in addition to his many other published articles. Before and after his retirement, he was editor of the prestigious journal Pediatric Dentistry.

Dr. McDonald was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on May 12, 1920, the son of Earl S. and Addie E. (Cottom) McDonald. He graduated from Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1938 where he met his future wife Sarah Jane Wyatt. In 1942, he received his undergraduate degree from Indiana University where he became a member of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity; he and Sarah Jane were married that summer. In December of 1944, he was awarded his D.D.S. degree from Indiana University School of Dentistry in an accelerated degree program during WW II, completing the four-year program in two years and four months. After receiving his dental degree, Dr. McDonald was commissioned as an Ensign in the Navy. Following additional training at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, he served as the ship dentist on the troop transport USS Admiral Sims, retiring from the Navy in 1946 as Lieutenant, Dental Corps.

Dr. McDonald was appointed instructor in the IU School of Dentistry Children's Clinic in 1946 where he became a pioneer in starting the pediatric dentistry program. After receiving an M.S. from Indiana University in 1951, Dr. McDonald was named the Chair of Children's Dentistry Department in 1952. He subsequently rose through various academic ranks and was appointed Dean of the Indiana University School of Dentistry in 1969. After serving the dental school with great distinction for nearly 40 years including 17 years as Dean, Dr. McDonald retired in 1985. A few months prior to his retirement, he was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from Indiana State University.

Dr. McDonald received numerous honors from the professional and service organizations of which he was a member including the Distinguished Service Award from the American Society of Dentistry for Children in 1972; the Indiana University School of Dentistry Alumnus of the Year Award in 1985; and the 1988 Alumnus of the Year Award, Arsenal Technical High School. Dr. McDonald was a Fellow of the American College of Dentists and Chairman of the Indiana Section; a Fellow of the International College of Dentists; and a Diplomate of the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry. Recently, he was also awarded the IUPUI Alumni Leaders' Maynard K. Hine Award and inducted into Indiana University's most prestigious recognition society, the IU Presidents Circle.

Under the mantra of "retire from something to something," he continued on as editor of Pediatric Dentistry for a number of years. Until recently, Dr. McDonald remained as co-author of the textbook Dentistry for the Child and Adolescent, which he created and originally published in 1963 as the textbook Pedodontics; this year's 10th edition of the textbook makes it the world's longest-running children's dentistry textbook.

After retirement he made Sanibel Island his primary residence while maintaining a residence at the Meadowood Retirement Center in Bloomington, Indiana. Dr. McDonald was a lifelong IU supporter and sports enthusiast. On Sanibel he enjoyed boating, fishing, and riding his bike on the many island bike paths; he particularly enjoyed sharing the beauty of Sanibel with visiting family and friends. Dr. McDonald was a man of great faith that sustained and guided him throughout his personal and professional life as well as through his final illness.
Dr. McDonald was blessed to live a long and full life and was surrounded by those he loved and who loved him at his passing. He will be missed.

Sarah Jane, his loving wife of nearly 58 years, preceded Dr. McDonald in death in 2000. Surviving are his children Dr. John (Barbie) McDonald, Cincinnati, OH; Dr. Scott (Arlene) McDonald, Fishers, IN; and Barbara (Jeff) Dean, Indianapolis, IN; seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Also surviving is Joanne Muncey (Cleveland, OH), his much-loved companion of the last fourteen years who brought him great happiness and solace.

Suggested Memorial Donations

  • Memorial contributions can be made to the Indiana University Ralph E. McDonald Professorship in Pediatric Dentistry and mailed to Ms. Pamela Lovejoy; IU Foundation Accounts Manager; IU School of Dentistry; 1121 W. Michigan Street; Indianapolis, Indiana 4

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