Smiles we remember: Dr. C. Moody Alexander

Chances are, if you’ve ever received a dollar from Dr. C. Moody Alexander, it’s never been spent. Maybe the bill is tucked into a wallet, or a drawer, or in the case of this writer, posted on a corkboard in your office. And why? Because you’re going to do the right thing.
February 8th, 2018

Dr. C. Moody AlexanderOffhand, the association may seem arbitrary, but when you look at the dollar, you remember the conversation and Alexander’s pithy counsel on ethics and professionalism.

If you don’t have a dollar from Alexander, perhaps you have been graced with one of his handwritten notes. It seems common among recipients that his letters never wound up in the trash. On the contrary: They were tucked into a file for safekeeping. After all, how could you manage to dispose of that trademark signature: a smiley face etched into the “y” of “Moody,” a simple image with the power to change the tone of any day?

For those of us who have known Alexander, his mottos ring just as clear in the days following his passing on Feb. 3.

“Dr. Alexander was always talking about ‘doing the right thing.’ He would reinforce this by challenging everyone to put their right foot forward as we enter the College of Dentistry. Put the right foot forward and do the right thing,” says Dr. Mark Gannaway, clinical associate professor in restorative sciences, who with Alexander helped to create the college’s Great Expectations mentoring program.

Gannaway shared those words with first-year dental students during the Great Expectations meeting with Dallas County Dental Society members on Feb. 1, just days before Alexander’s passing.

Hundreds of Texas A&M College of Dentistry students are beneficiaries of Alexander’s vision for future dentists through this program. Since 2008, when Great Expectations began, nearly every single first-year dental student has chosen to participate in the meetings, which pool the life experiences and wisdom of upperclass dental students, faculty and practicing dentists. That translates to more than 1,000 students, not to mention the ones who return as mentors. The program’s main goal: to support students during that crucial first year of dental school, and while doing so, to exemplify what it means to be a professional.

“Dr. Alexander would always talk about teaching and learning,” Gannaway says. “His favorite quote was, ‘If the students want to learn, the teachers want to teach. And if the teachers want to teach, the students want to learn!’”

It’s a challenge Gannaway now imparts upon each new group of students: to come to class and want to learn.

Alexander himself responded to that call to teach back in 1975, when, after 15 years practicing orthodontics in Odessa, Texas, he accepted a faculty appointment in the Department of Orthodontics at what was then Baylor College of Dentistry. By 1977, he accepted the position of department chair, a role he filled until 1987, when Dr. Richard Ceen came on board. Alexander stayed on the faculty for decades, serving even through his retirement years.

“He made the transition a smooth one for me by always putting the department’s interests before his own,” recalls Ceen. “He never became a ‘backseat driver.’ He was a wonderful friend and colleague throughout the many years we were together, and his positive attitude was often the light at the end of a very long tunnel.”

Alexander’s legacy within the department itself has been twofold. For starters, his arrival strengthened his own family’s bond to the dental school. His brother, Dr. Richard G. “Wick” Alexander, had joined the faculty in 1965, and in the years that followed, several of their sons went on to graduate from the college’s dental program and become orthodontists, giving back to their communities and school, even naming a seminar room in honor of their fathers.

Alexander also perpetuated the department’s family atmosphere instilled by his predecessor, Dr. Robert Gaylord. One such way: those handwritten notes.

“When I came to Baylor to teach in 2005 and was cleaning out my desk in Huntsville, I had 21 of those kind, handwritten letters that I had kept over many years of practice,” says Dr. Phillip Campbell ’71, ’73, who retired from his post as orthodontics department head in August. “The fact that he took the time to pen a personal note recognizing what, at the time, seemed like small accomplishments made them seem really special. That was Dr. Moody — a special gift to us all!”

In others’ words

As one faculty member puts it, “It’s hard to say enough about what you want to say about Moody.” So when the Department of Orthodontics was contacted for comment, not just one individual but many responded. Here’s more of what they had to say.

  • “A Moody tradition was quoting his ‘Moodyisms’ back to him. If you did, he gave you a dollar bill. My wife, Lisa, has heard me repeat many of his sayings regularly. One of my favorites is, ‘Adversity is opportunity, and the difference is attitude.’ One day in a conversation with Moody she repeated that back to him and sure enough, he gave her a dollar bill. Years later, he and I were having a conversation, and he repeated something back to me that I had said, so I gave him a dollar. He had me sign it; he had it framed and put it up on his wall. A couple of years ago, he paid me a wonderful compliment. He knew that my birthday that year was on Wednesday, the day that I taught at the dental school in the orthodontic department. He came up to the school and waited for me to get there to give me a birthday card. It was the highlight of my birthday.”

—Dr. Jeff Genecov ’85, ’88

  • “During his early days as chairman of the Department of Orthodontics, Moody and I often shared our feelings. He sincerely felt that life is a blessing despite encountering many difficulties and sometimes fierce opposition. One day he sat down for a chat and told me, ‘You know that song about a frog who dreamed of becoming a king, and then became one? That’s how I feel about becoming chair of this department.’ That is truly how he felt about everything; always humble, always grateful, and deeply committed to becoming a better person.”

—Stan Richardson

  • “He had a great life and touched so many people. He was ‘Mr. Positive,’ and his memory and deeds will be his immortality.”

—Dr. Mark Geller ’73, ’75

  • “I think about how busy we all are, and how precious our time is ….  Dr. Moody gave his time freely.”

—Dr. Chad Capps ’08, ’14

  • “This story happened when I was a first-year resident at UT Houston. Both Moody and Wick were UT Houston orthodontic alumni and often came to the orthodontic department annual alumni meeting. My first alumni meeting to attend was June of 1987. As a Baylor dental student, I had talked to Dr. Alexander on numerous occasions. Anyway, I was standing with my wife and almost 3-year-old son, his loaded squirt gun in tow, at the resort check-in counter. My wife was engaged at the counter, and I was looking around for classmates or anyone I might know. I remember being eager to be a part of the group. And, I remember being grateful to be there, eager to learn all I could, and looking forward to every minute with my classmates while meeting alumni. Suddenly, the large double doors of the resort open, and in walk Moody and Wick. I was star-struck. Moody saw me and started walking towards me with that big smile recognizable to all. My son turned to follow me, and Moody instantly began to engage him. That was Moody’s way. But, without warning, my son began soaking both Moody and Wick with his squirt gun. I was MORTIFIED! I thought my almost one-year-old residency was over and that my career as an orthodontist would be snuffed out by a squirt gun from a 3 year old. I remember this event as if it was yesterday. Moody never forgot it, either. We talked about them getting soaked at least once a year, every year, and he always asked, “How’s that little boy doing?” In fact, the last time Moody and I talked, about a year ago, he asked me about my son, and we talked about that day, the Houston alumni meeting, more than 30 years ago.”

—Dr. Larry Tadlock ’84

Services for Dr. C. Moody Alexander are scheduled for 1 p.m. on Feb. 12 at Highland Park Presbyterian Church.

— Jennifer Fuentes