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Distinguished ODU educator, Michele L. Darby, Succumbs to Illness

Michele Leonardi Darby - a former Old Dominion University Eminent Scholar and Professor who also served as chair of ODU's Gene W. Hirschfeld School of Dental Hygiene - died Thursday morning (Feb. 5) after an extended illness.

Darby retired from ODU in 2013. The same year she was awarded the Dimensions of Dental Hygiene's Esther Wilkins Lifetime Achievement Award, which is given by Dimensions of Dental Hygiene and is sponsored by Colgate.

Darby, who lived in Virginia Beach, was 64. She is survived by her husband, Dennis; daughter, Devan; and son, Blake.

"It is with great sadness that the College of Health Sciences, the School of Dental Hygiene and I mourn the passing of Michele Darby," said Shelley Mishoe, Dean of ODU's College of Health Sciences. "She has been an inspiration to so many people throughout her life in her many roles as dental hygienist, professor, department chair, Eminent Scholar, author, researcher and mentor. Michele flourished in all of these roles, but none as much as her cherished role as wife to Dennis and mother of Devan and Blake. Our hearts go out to the entire Darby family during this time of tremendous loss of someone so special that has left a remarkable legacy of accomplishment and caring."

Darby received her Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees from Columbia University, in New York. She arrived at ODU in 1974 as an assistant professor at the School for Dental Hygiene, a position she held for a decade. Thus began her celebrated career at the university.

In 1982, Darby became chair for the College of Health Sciences School of Dental Hygiene. Due to her exemplary merit and service to ODU, Darby was named an Eminent Scholar in 1989 and also became the graduate program director for the School of Dental Hygiene.

In addition to the lifetime achievement award, Darby received numerous accolades during her career, including: the Rufus Alan Tonelson Distinguished Faculty Award in 1991, the Virginia State Council on Higher Education's Outstanding Faculty Award in 199 and the Excellence in Teaching Award from the ODU College of Health Sciences in 2007.

Darby was known for her attention to detail in classroom instruction, her writings and mentoring. She wrote three major textbooks, in addition to more than 50 peer-reviewed publications on dental hygiene. She also emphasized the responsibilities dental hygiene professionals have globally. Darby led by example.

In 1981, she visited the People's Republic of China as part of a pioneering delegation of visiting professionals who shared dental hygiene concepts and techniques with Chinese dentists. As a Fulbright Scholar in 2010, she spent six months in Irbid, Jordan, at the Jordan University of Science and Technology, working to improve standards of education and practice.

Darby's work in Jordan earned her the 2011 Distinguished Alumni Award in Dental Hygiene from the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine - the same year she received ODU's Shining Star Award, which is given to faculty members who demonstrate evidence of helping students succeed academically, professionally and personally inside and outside the classroom.

In 2014, Michele and Dennis Darby established the Michele Leonardi Darby Global Oral Health Award with a $25,000 leadership contribution. The award focuses "on preparing dental hygienists and dental hygiene faculty to be competent in cross-cultural environments whether around the globe or around the corner."

There will be a special Celebration of Life Service for Darby this spring. The event will be held at the University Theatre in the College of Health Sciences building from 1 to 3 p.m., Saturday, April 25.

Anyone interested in making a gift in support of the award, please contact Manisha Harrell, Major Gift Officer, at 757-683-3090 or at m1sharma@odu.edu.

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