September 27, 1922 - April 24, 2013 |
CELEBRATING A LIFE
Howard Stein pioneered in the development of group dental practice serving a working class population. He was a world class traveler, having visited over 80 countries throughout the world. He was a public advocate, serving on numerous state boards regulating the various professions. He was a patron of the arts and a collector of fine art. He was a loyal friend, a mentor to his colleagues, and a devoted father and husband. Howard died at age 90, after a long and fulfilling life.
Howard Stein was born in Newark, N.J. After graduating high school, he attended North Carolina State College, majoring in Agricultural Economics. In 1943, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving in its Dental Corp until 1946. Both he and his younger brother, Robert, enrolled at the University of Indiana, he in the School of Dentistry, Robert in the School of Medicine. The brothers graduated the same year, 1950, and Howard returned to practice for a few months in New Jersey. Tragically, brother Robert died during his internship in the Coast Guard.
In 1951, an opening at the Veterans Administration dental clinic in Los Angeles gave Howard the opportunity to satisfy his curiosity about the good weather of Southern California, compared with the winters of New Jersey. After a year and a half at the VA clinic, during which time he also was a clinical instructor at the University of Southern California School of Dentistry, Howard opened a private dental practice in North Hollywood.
These were the boom years, sometimes called the Golden Years, of dental practice. After five years, in 1957, Howard sold the practice and embarked with his first wife, Adelaide Messer, on what turned out to be a five year tour of Europe, during which time they wrote, The Budget Guide to Europe. Published in 1961, it was one of the earliest travel guides of post-WWII Europe, selling over 20,000 copies the first year.
Howard and Adelaide separated in the early 1960s, after returning to Southern California. Howard opened a new dental practice in West Covina. One of his patients, a union official, enlisted Howard to serve members of the union, charging no more than the self-insured union trust fund paid. By accepting whatever amounts dental insurance paid, by not charging his patients out-of-pocket co-payments, the practice grew beyond expectations. Soon, Howard was hiring other dentists. By the 1970s, the multi-specialty practice was expanded to include a second location in Bellflower, ultimately employing 600 personnel, including over 50 dentists, and equipped with regular dental chairs, a surgical suite, a dental laboratory, and a separate administrative building.
The commercial insurance companies, including the dental association insurance plan, were not pleased. Howard continually battled them over co-pays. The insurance companies insisted patients had to pay the additional cost themselves, which prevented many people with limited income from getting the care they needed. Howard persisted and a measure of his success came when a retired Vice-president of Delta Dental Insurance admitted that in designing a new plan, the first question was, "Can Howard Stein beat this one?" To which Howard replied, "I always did."
It was the highly efficient group dental practice pioneered by Howard that allowed him to provide dental care to thousands of working class people who could not otherwise afford treatment. In December of 1987, Howard appeared on the CBS program "60 Minutes" in a segment entitled "Drilling For Dollars."
Over the years, Howard assisted many other dentists in the development of similar, albeit smaller practices, thus maintaining his interest in dentistry and the provision of low cost quality care to low income populations.
In 1978, recognizing his concern for the welfare of the public, Howard was appointed by then Governor Jerry Brown to the Board of Dental Examiners of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. During his 4-year tenure on the Board, he advocated for improved safety regulations and expansion of the duties of dental assistants. In 1982, he was appointed to the Board of Cosmetology where he served for 10 years, and then to the Board of Behavioral Sciences. While on the Cosmetology Board, he implemented stricter rules regarding sterilization in hair and nail salons, based on standards for sterilizing dental instruments. Needless to say, these were non-paying, voluntary appointments giving voice to Howard's deep concern and commitment to the public's welfare.
In 1970, Howard married Susan Greenwell, becoming stepfather to Bridget and Rick. Daughter Theresa was born the following year and family lore has it that she was well into grade school before she found out that her name was not "Princess." Howard relished the role of family man, taking up motorcycling with Rick, organizing family vacations and satisfying his cooking skills by serving gourmet dinners. He and Susan separated after ten years. Howard continued to mentor and encourage his children, instilling in them his love of education, travel and adventure.
Although he left the Bellflower practice in 1988, Howard continued to assist associates in several other practices. In addition, he became involved in real estate investment and development. His interest in architecture led to the design and sale of five luxury homes in Huntington Harbour.
Howard was an ardent sailor, switching to motor launches after his move to Huntington Harbour around 1980. There he was able to fulfill his penchant for decoration and collection of art and period pieces in his own home on the waterfront, as well as to bake bread - one of his gourmet specialties - and to host great parties for the annual Huntington Harbour boat parade. It was at the 1987 boat parade that Eileen Bowie and Howard married in a surprise ceremony. They had known each other since 1960 when Eileen was hired to type the manuscript for the European travel guide. Eileen's husband had died a few years before and Howard was divorced again. It was a match waiting to be made.
Since then Howard and Eileen traveled to the far corners of the planet, including such remote places as Yemen, Uzbekistan, Bhutan and Tibet. They rode camels in Egypt, yaks in Tibet, elephants in India, Range Rovers in Africa, and a rickety 26 passenger bus on washed-out roads over the 16,000 foot pass between Pakistan and China. There were also golf carts and bicycles, and their own yacht along the east coast Intracoastal Waterway.
Howard's curiosity, interests and energy stimulated everyone. His life has been a bright spot for virtually everyone who knew him. Life without him, for those who knew him, will be immeasurably emptier, but richer for having had him with us.
Eileen and Theresa will miss him most of all. But there are many others who will miss him almost as much.
Published in the Los Angeles Times on May 19, 2013