Former College of Dental Medicine dean Connie Drisko leaves behind a very tangible legacy at Georgia Regents University - the massive building her school now occupies and another next to it where dental and medical school students will attend classes. Drisko, 73, died Sunday at Georgia Regents Medical Center after battling acute myelogenous leukemia, the school said.
She was only the third dean of the school when she took over in 2003 and over the 10 years she served as dean the school built one of the largest and most impressive buildings in state history, a $112 million home to replace the aging and inadequate building elsewhere on campus. In some ways, the new building reflects her personality, warmer and more inviting than the common sterile clinic building with artwork everywhere, said Dr. Carol Lefebvre, who succeeded Drisko as dean last year.
“We had a patient advisory board that was involved and that was their request, that it not look like a clinic, that it be a warm and inviting place,” she said. “That’s when she started with the idea to collect artwork for the building. That’s just made a huge difference because it has a very different feel than many of the other clinical buildings.”
It reflected Drisko’s own love of art as well, Lefebvre said.
“She loved artwork,” she said. “You’d go to her home and she would tell you the stories of her artwork that she had at home, too.”
A lot of people got to admire her artwork, from an annual party for married students, to new faculty to speakers and guests of the college, Lefebvre said.
“She loved to entertain and bring people to her home,” she said.
It wasn’t just the buildings that were expanding - the school grew from 62 students to 80 when it opened the new building in 2011, to 86 this fall, Lefebvre said. But the college has also grown its faculty to 74 full-time and 105 positions overall, Lefebvre said.
“That was her mantra and it remains our mantra, that we didn’t want to just increase the class size without keeping the quality the same,” she said.
While Drisko was generous with her own money, she also was “game for anything,” Lefebvre said, laughing. “I can’t think of too many leaders who would allow themselves to get a pie in the face and dunked in a dunk tank.”
There was an easy way to find Drisko in a crowd - head toward the laughter.
“Just full of high energy, just really loved life,” Lefebvre said. “She was 73 and she could outpace the rest of us. She was full of spirit.”
Burial will be private, but the school is planning a public memorial in September but haven’t set a date yet. In lieu of flowers, the family requested donations be made in Drisko’s memory to the Georgia Health Sciences Foundation, 1120 15th Street, FI-1000, Augusta, GA 30912. The money will support the school’s pediatric outreach programs and other programs for children. Serving children was a particular passion for Drisko, Lefebvre said.
“She was a great mentor and I am very happy to have had her in my life,” she said.