NISKAYUNA — Friends and family of Dr. J Thomas Lanka remember a man full of personal and professional kindness who wanted to make people smile.
The longtime oral surgeon passed away on Sunday, Jan. 28. He was 81. A Niskayuna resident for many years, he and his wife moved to Galway after retirement.
Lanka was born in Chicago in 1936. He graduated from the University of Illinois and went on to complete dental school there as well. He served in the Army during the Vietnam War and was stationed in Orleans, France, where he was the oral surgeon on base.
Oral surgeon Dr. Frank Stillman brought Lanka and his wife, Lenore, to Schenectady in 1966 and introduced them to other young dentists in the area. Among the first to make Lanka’s introduction was Peter Herman. They struck up a friendship that would last for the next 50 years.
“He was kind and humble,” Herman said. “He made me a much better dentist. He’s one of those people who changes your life.”
Herman went on to say that Lanka’s bedside manner was empathetic and respectful.
“He treated his patients like people,” Herman said.
In addition to their professional relationship, Herman also valued their personal relationship. He and his wife and the Lankas went skiing and took other trips together.
Lanka and Lenore had been married for 56 years, and they had four children.
“He never worked a day in his life because he loved what he did,” said Lanka’s youngest son, Dan.
Dan recalled his father’s commitment to people and his profession. He said his father would get up in the middle of the night to go to the hospital and help people in emergencies.
In addition to being a caring person, Lanka was also a thoughtful teacher. For the past 30 or so years he supervised dental students serving their residencies at Ellis Medicine. Dan said his father enjoyed working with the students and embraced their energy and passion for learning.
Herman said Lanka was always looking for new or better ways to do his job.
Lanka was also teaching at home. He taught Dan to fly fish and, just before he died, was looking forward to teaching his 5-year-old grandson to fish as well.
“He was extremely patient and loving toward everyone,” Dan said. “My own friends remember when they were little kids, he would talk to them like adults. He was respectful of everyone, regardless of age.”
Dan said his father was level-headed and would take the time to formulate a thoughtful reply in conversations.
Dan described his father as kind, compassionate, patient, loving and generous.
“His motto was ‘Do a little good every day.’”