Dr. Linda Edgar's dental career, both as a dentist and as a volunteer within organized dentistry, is an impressive one, including successful leadership positions at the state, regional, and national levels. But her accomplishments outside of dentistry — as an adoptive mother, an author, a middle- and high-school teacher, a record-setting distance runner, a triathlete, and a cancer survivor — are every bit as impressive and revealing.
QUICK BITES: LINDA EDGAR AT A GLANCE
- Noteworthy: Would be 5th woman to become President-Elect of the American Dental Association
- Professional Profile: Retired after 30 years of co-owning and -operating a 10-operatory dental practice with her husband Bryan
- Resides: Federal Way, Washington
- Education: Undergraduate and Dental School at the University of Washington
Linda Edgar is a self-described “movie-holic.” So she undoubtedly recalls the climactic scene of Aaron Sorkin’s “The American President.”
In a speech to the White House press corps, President Andrew Shepherd, played by Michael Douglas, declares, “I can tell you without hesitation that being president of this country is entirely about character.”
Shepherd’s description could just as easily be applied to the presidency of the 161,000-member ADA. It’s a position that requires commitment, leadership ability, and, yes, character. Fortunately for Edgar, the more her peers learn about her character, the more compelling a candidate she becomes.
Her dental career, both as a dentist and as a volunteer within organized dentistry, is an impressive one, including successful leadership positions at the state, regional, and national levels. But her accomplishments outside of dentistry — as an adoptive mother, an author, a middle- and high-school teacher, a record-setting distance runner, a triathlete, and a cancer survivor — are every bit as impressive and revealing.
Edgar’s character began taking shape at a young age. Her father served in the U.S. Coast Guard, beginning as a rescue pilot, and eventually rising through the ranks to admiral. She also had an uncle who was a three-star general in the U.S. Army, so leadership might just be in her blood.
Edgar considers her father one of her heroes. “He was one of the most honest people you’d ever meet, and he was really dedicated to his men — they were all men back then — and to the public he had sworn to protect,” she says. “Of course, he was also extremely disciplined and set high expectations for all of us.”
Her father’s career required frequent moves for the family, which meant regularly saying goodbye to friends, something that can be tough on a child. But now Edgar looks back on those days and sees an advantage she might not have fully recognized at the time.
“Moving around in a military family meant living with and getting along with a diverse range of people,” she recalls. “As military families, we supported each other.”
One of the stops in the family’s travels was Port Angeles, where her father served as the commanding officer of the local Coast Guard unit. That was where she met her future husband, and the man who would eventually encourage her to pursue a career in dentistry, Bryan Edgar. Not that her father was initially wild about the prospect of his daughter seriously dating while still in high school.
“My father never called Bryan by his name until we were married,” she says. “Before then, it was always ‘your friend’!”
Their relationship flourished even as Linda’s family was once again transferred before her senior year of high school and as the couple attended different colleges. When Linda graduated from the University of Washington, the two were married. Linda began her teaching career in the Seattle area while Bryan finished dental school.
It was around this time that Linda experienced a life-threatening tubal pregnancy, a medical event that would eventually shape her family and her life in unanticipated ways. She recovered and the couple moved to Manhattan, Kansas, where Bryan began his residency as an Army dentist and Linda worked as a lab researcher. While there, she experienced a second tubal pregnancy, which again threatened her life. She again recovered, but the two incidents left her unable to have children of her own.
“You appreciate life a little more when you have nearly died,” she says. “You learn to just love each other and not sweat the small stuff. You let some things go, because, in the big picture of life, they’re just small details.”
TRIUMPH FROM TRAGEDY
“I strongly believe that you don’t ever give up,” Edgar says. “You have to try to take your tragedies and step outside from them. Every bad thing that has ever happened to me has made me stronger and tougher, and they have led to great things.”
One of those great things is their son, David. Because the tubal pregnancies had left Edgar unable to carry a child, David came into the Edgars’ lives through adoption. Linda has written a book about their experiences as a family, called “Thank You For Giving Me David.”
“I wanted to write the book since David was about 10 years old. I wanted to write about the sacrifice that his natural mother made in giving him up, and how that made such a huge difference in my life,” she explains. “There are lots of stories about people who are adopted and what they go through to find their natural family. But there are very few stories about the families who adopt, and what they may have gone through before adopting.”
Her motivation for being the one to tell that story can be summed up in one of her favorite sayings: “I respect the person who heals a heart they did not break and raises a child they did not make.”
David is now an Alaska Airlines pilot, and lives with his wife and two daughters about an hour south of Seattle — allowing for plenty of quality grandparent time for the Edgars.
A WORLD-CLASS ATHLETE
Edgar’s medical experiences also led her into an activity that provided not only a sense of accomplishment, but also recognition as a world-class athlete.
“I felt broken when I lost those babies and couldn’t have kids on my own,” she says. I felt inadequate, and I needed something to help fill that personal void.”
That something was running. And running. And running some more.
“I threw myself into running. A friend of mine was also running, so I joined her. I took to it and felt almost like I was trying to prove my worth.”
She quickly began adding distance to her running regimen, and eventually was clocking more than 100 miles each week. One thing she loved about running, Edgar says, is that it reinforced the value of hard work.
“Don’t tell me I can’t do this. I hate words like ‘can’t’ and ‘impossible,’” she declares. “Everything is possible. You can go from a 9-minute mile to a 6-minute mile if you put in the work.”
Linda (left), also a track and cross-country coach at the school where she teaches, runs with her team’s mile and two-mile state champion athletes.
Demonstrating that she was willing to put in that work, between 1978 and 1988, Edgar competed in 45 marathons. Along the way, she won her share — including setting a new course record in the Seattle marathon in 1981, and a new world record in a 50K race in 1982. These accomplishments were enough to earn her an invitation to the first-ever U.S. women’s Olympic marathon trials, held in Olympia in 1984. While she didn’t make the Olympic team, the experience was still a highlight in her running career.
Eventually, Edgar went looking for another challenge. Having been a competitive swimmer in her youth, triathlons seemed like a logical next step. She began training and completed two Ironman races in 1994 and 1995.
Linda finishes the 1982 San Diego Marathon in first place with a time of 2:47:01.
FINDING HAPPINESS HELPING OTHERS
While Edgar was more than willing to push herself physically, she also found great joy in encouraging others intellectually.
“I always believed that you should look at yourself and ask what makes you happy. For me, that has always been helping people,” Edgar says. “That’s what led me to dentistry, but before that, it led me to a 15-year teaching career.”
Edgar taught math and science at Cascade Junior High School in the Auburn School District, and later moved on to Auburn High School to teach honors chemistry and coach track. She would coach a track or cross-country practice and then run the eight miles back to the family home in Federal Way.
“Helping others succeed at something is so fulfilling. It’s amazing to see the lights come on and know that your students really understand what you’re teaching them.”
Many teachers maintain that they learn from their students just as their students learn from them. Edgar is no exception, and she tells of what she heard from one high school chemistry student when she asked for feedback at the end of the term. He told her that chemistry would be a lot easier if she didn’t use such big words, like nitrogen and hydrogen!
“It was a good reminder that you need to meet the students where they are. And it’s a lesson I still try to keep in mind today when I’m speaking to an audience,” she says.
Of course, being a person of action, Edgar was soon making contributions outside her normal responsibilities. She led a successful effort to raise private funds to provide computers for every classroom in the school. She also offered after-hours tutoring for students. In her first year of teaching, she recruited Bryan, by then a practicing dentist, to work after school with one young man who had expressed interest in becoming a dentist.
FROM TEACHER TO STUDENT
Eventually, it was Linda who was back in the classroom as a student and on her way to becoming a dentist. Encouraged by her husband to enter the profession, she was accepted into the University of Washington School of Dentistry. It was the only school to which she applied.
When she got there, she saw one familiar face. The student with an interest in dentistry, that one she and Bryan had helped years before, was now in his fourth year.
Linda’s former middle school student, Dr. Todd Yoshino, would become her classmate at the University of Washington School of Dentistry, where she enrolled at the age of 37.
Back then, dental school students were still predominantly men, and she was considerably older than most first-year dental students. She soon found that balancing the demands of dental school and motherhood wasn’t easy. As always, when faced with a challenge, she decided the best course was to work a little harder. After four years of 45-minute commutes to and from the UW, she graduated at age 40.
“I’d worked hard, but when I graduated, I still didn’t feel like I knew enough. So I started a study group working toward Fellowship and Mastership with the Academy of General Dentistry. We started providing care for underserved patients, and now the AGD Board has taken that program and built on it,” Edgar says.
Today, the program that Edgar helped launch has become a 10-operatory facility near Sea-Tac International Airport, where recent dental graduates come from all over the world to further hone their skills and serve the underserved.
Reflecting on her time as a practicing dentist, Edgar says she’s fortunate to have had an opportunity to build and operate a practice with her spouse.
“He worked at one end of the office and I was at the other,” she recalls of the practice they sold a few years ago. “Bryan is an amazingly skilled dentist. When I had problems with a root canal, for instance, I’d bring him in to help care for the patient. My real skill is in making people, especially kids, feel comfortable.”
TURNING EMPATHY INTO ACTION
As her dental career progressed, Edgar remembered the challenges she had faced in dental school, even with a supportive spouse and family. With this in mind, she began providing scholarship funds to help women in dental school with children at home.
These scholarships are just another example of the cornerstone of Edgar’s character: turning empathy into action.
Shortly after the death of her mother in 2015, Edgar faced another challenge. She noticed what looked like a canker sore on her lower lip. But it would not heal; it would scab over and then return. After a month with no improvement, she asked an oral surgeon friend to perform a biopsy and confirmed that the sore was cancerous.
Surgery was postponed until after her mother’s burial next to Edgar’s father at Arlington National Cemetery. The cancerous cells were removed and tissue from inside her mouth was used to reconstruct the lip.
“I can help someone deal with a tubal pregnancy, because I have lived it and I know what they’re going through,” Edgar says. “I can help someone dealing with an oral cancer, because I’ve lived that, too. And I know what it’s like for a mother to have to balance the rigors of dental school or the demands of a growing dental practice with caring for her children.”
Asked about blazing a trail for those following in her footsteps, Edgar is encouraged. “Things have changed since I was in dental school; women make up about half of today’s classes. Still, it’s an eye-opener when I go to conferences and see that more than half of the leadership of the American Student Dental Association are women.”
“Of course, I feel an obligation to do what I can to make the path easier for them.”
Linda visits with a group of American Student Dental Association (ASDA) District 10 women leaders.
Despite the fact that only four women have served as president in the 160+ year history of the ADA, Edgar is quick to caution that she doesn’t want her candidacy to be about gender.
“I want to help make ADA an even more effective organization,” she says. “ADA’s membership market share is declining as a percentage of practicing dentists. The profession is changing, and we need to focus on new dentists, women dentists, and dentists from diverse populations while still supporting and thanking the previous generations who supported the ADA and made it strong.”
Linda meets with national ADA, AGD, and dental student leaders at the 2020 American Student Dental Association (ASDA) Annual Session.
Having honed her national leadership skills as president of the Academy of General Dentistry, Edgar believes she is well-prepared to be an effective leader of the ADA.
“I’m ready to jump into the deep end, with no water wings,” she says with a chuckle.
No one would bet against her rising to the surface and completing the race.
Linda leads a conversation between Washington legislators, dentists and University of Washington dental students at WSDA Dental Action Day.
ROADMAP FOR SUCCESSFUL LEADERSHIP
Edgar has read hundreds of books on effective leadership over the years, and has prepared Cliff Notes-style summaries of all of them. She’s in the process of turning them into her next book. But her own volunteer experiences also provide valuable lessons for would-be leaders:
- Have a bias toward action: As AGD president, Edgar led the board in creating an action plan to increase membership, an effort that resulted in 4,000 new members. “You can’t just talk about it. You need to get members engaged and motivated. When you take the time to make the phone call, it’s amazing what you can accomplish.”
- Increase your focus to improve results: When she led the AGD Foundation, Edgar felt that “we were just giving money away. We needed a focus and we settled on oral cancers.” Ironically, that decision came before Edgar’s own diagnosis and successful treatment for an oral cancer.
- Break big goals into manageable bites: Edgar has successfully applied this lesson in many fundraising endeavors. “It’s a lot easier to ask a dentist to commit the equivalent of one root canal each month for the next five years than it is to ask for $50,000 - $60,000. Many baby steps make a huge footprint. When everyone does a little, it makes a big difference.”
- Don’t worry about who gets the credit: Edgar is quick to credit others for successful programs launched on her watch. “At the Seattle-King County Dental Society, we launched one program to give free dental treatment to everyone needing a kidney transplant. Then we launched another to help divert those seeking dental care from hospital emergency rooms. These were ideas from one of my board colleagues, Amy Winston, and we all worked together to make them happen.”
CAREER AND VOLUNTEER HIGHLIGHTS
Edgar has an impressive record of service, both as a dentist and as an advocate for organized dentistry. Here are a few highlights::
- Co-owned and -operated (with her husband Bryan) a 10-chair private dental practice for 30 years
- Chair of successful University of Washington School of Dentistry (UWSOD) $22 million fundraising campaign (2002-2008)
- Co-founder of Endowment for Digital Photography Imaging at UWSOD (2004)
- Co-founder of Endowment for Microscopic Implant and High Technologies in Dentistry Clinic at UWSOD (2005)
- Recipient of Dean’s Lifetime Service Award at UWSOD (2010)
- Academy of General Dentistry National Secretary (Two Terms, 2007-2011)
- Academy of General Dentistry Officer (2011-2015 – Vice President, President-Elect, President, and Immediate Past President)
- Academy of General Dentistry Foundation Board Member (2016-2018) and President (2017-2018)
- Seattle-King County Dental Society President (2010-2011)
- Washington State Dental Association Board of Directors (2016-2019)
- Pacific Northwest Dental Conference Committee (2001-2005, Chair in 2005)
- Delegate to American Dental Association House of Delegates (2005-2018)
- American Dental Association Trustee for District XI – Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington (2018-2022)
This article was originally published in the Winter 2022 issue of the WSDA News.