Dentistry lost an industry giant. Winnie Furnari, MS, RDH, passed away on Thursday, April 20. Winnie remained active until the end, writing articles, teaching seminars, and communicating with and mentoring her colleagues and students.
Winnie is well-known for her work in forensic odontology. A New Yorker, she was a member of the NYC Dental Identification Team following 9-11. On the 20th anniversary of the World Trade Center, Winnie contributed an article to RDH magazine about her work and the work of the team.
“Many, many volunteers offered to help with the intensive labor or wherever they were needed,” she wrote. “I witnessed this and can vouch for the fantastic response from the dental community. It was certainly the largest outpouring from the dental profession that most of us had ever seen, where we offered our skills and volunteered in any way we could.
“The major forensic task given to the medical examiner of New York was identifying people. All the teams in his office were called in, including the dental identification team. Forensic dentistry means dentistry performed to assist the legal community. The NYC team grew as the task grew, and the days turned into weeks and months. Members of the dental community nationwide offered to come to New York to assist. This was truly an example of how unselfish and compassionate the dental community can be, and what an asset it is to forensics.”
As a clinical professor at New York University College of Dentistry, Winnie was hailed by students as “one of the best.” Recent Facebook posts included dozens from students declaring, “You’re an incredible professor,” “You’re an amazing role model and friend,” “You’re the best mentor I’ve ever had,” and “Best forensic odontology class I took was Dr. Furnari’s.”
She continued to present seminars to her colleagues on the role of dental professionals in forensic identifications until the end.
A post from Premier Dental on Winnie’s Facebook page on March 10, as part of the company’s Celebration of Women, noted that “Winnie has been honored with numerous recognitions and awards, including Distinguished Service, Mentor of Year, Educator of the Year, and the prestigious Esther Wilkins Lifetime Achievement Award. She also received fellow status in the American Academy of Dental Hygiene and Forensic Science.” She was also a past president of the American Academy of Dental Hygiene.
“Winnie has been a continual influence in many of our lives and she became an even stronger influence for me as a chief editor," said Jackie Sanders, MS, RDH, chief editor of RDH magazine. “I always valued her opinion and guidance. When traveling to dental hygiene conventions, the event wasn’t complete until I crossed paths with Winnie, getting a hug, and sharing a smile.
“For the past three months, Winnie has been sharing regular emails with me,” Jackie continued. “She updated an article for RDH while she was attending a forensics conference. It was typical of her to be doing numerous things at once. I received an article submission from her on April 3. I read the email and now cherish her words. It said:
Hello Jackie, Please find attached an article I'm submitting for possible publication. Thank you for reviewing it and all you've helped me with. The article is, ‘We are moving: Patient-centered care to person-centered care.’
“It’s an article that will be my most cherished for many years to come.”
Winnie passionately promoted the dental hygiene profession and the empowerment of women. Remembrances from other dental colleagues include:
“Despite her icon status in dental hygiene, Winnie could not have been more approachable and affirming. When I was a new speaker and writer, she approached me to applaud my work and encourage me to continue to push our profession forward. I was flabbergasted that she even knew who I was. But in that tiny little package was a smart trailblazer who brought everyone along on the journey with her. In Winnie's honor, let's link arms and continue to push our profession forward together.” Amanda Hill, BSDH, RDH
“Winnie lived life on her terms. She stood up for what she believed in—her students, dental hygiene, and anything that moved dental hygiene forward. She made our profession better.” Carol Jahn, MS, RDH
“Winnie was the epitome of kindness and compassion. She would go around at various conferences and speak to the servers at the hotels, telling them what a great job they were doing, hearing their stories, talking about her own family. She was so proud of her and her 'St. Anthony's' life together. I will miss her hugs, her ability to always consider both sides of a discussion, and her laugh. The industry lost an icon.” Emily Boge, EdD, RDH, CDA
“St. Anthony” was Winnie’s nickname for her husband. According to her Facebook page, the couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at a Mass held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City in June of 2022.
Her Facebook page is also full of family photos, birthday wishes, and photos of her dental speaking engagements. One repost that got a lot of attention is when she entertained dental hygiene icon Ester Wilkins in her home. Winnie reposted the photo when she received the Ester Wilkins Lifetime Achievement Award in 2022.