In memoriam: Dr. Harold Hargis

Posted on: Friday, 11/20/2015

Dr. Harold Hargis, a well-known UCLA professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery (OMS), died on Nov. 17 at his home in Los Angeles at the age of 90.Dr. Harold Hargis, oral and maxillofacial surgeon

Being a mentor to dental students and residents who trained under him was his greatest passion, said his colleagues at the UCLA School of Dentistry. During his career, he taught anatomy, local anesthetic techniques, suturing techniques, instrumentation and many other topics. Students demonstrated their appreciation for the amount of effort and time he spent with them by honoring him with several student teaching awards.

"Dr. Harold Hargis was an excellent educator and surgeon," said Dr. No-Hee Park, dean of the UCLA School of Dentistry. "His impact to the section of oral and maxillofacial surgery was invaluable. He will be missed."

Hargis earned his B.S. and D.D.S. degrees from Howard University, followed by postdoctoral work at the University of Illinois. He completed an oral surgery residency program at Fitzsimmons General Hospital in Denver, Colo.

Hargis started his career in the U.S. Army at a time when there were very few African-American oral and maxillofacial surgeons. He was assigned to Switzerland to learn surgical techniques that were being developed at the time for repositioning the jaw bones. After mastering these procedures, Hargis improved on them with modifications to increase safety and efficiency. In fact, he is credited with coining the term that describes this field today — orthognathic surgery.

With creativity and insight, Hargis developed specialized instrumentation to further improve orthognathic surgical procedures. As a result of his work, the UCLA School of Dentistry has received both national and international recognition for its excellence in orthognathic surgery.

During his tenure here, Hargis served as chair of oral and maxillofacial surgery, director of the UCLA OMS Clinic and director of the UCLA OMS residency training program. He was an examiner for the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. He served in several leadership positions in the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons.

The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons honored him with the Daniel M. Laskin Award for Outstanding Predoctoral Educator in 2006, and the California Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons dedicated its 2006 annual meeting to Dr. Hargis in recognition of his extraordinary service and contributions. In 2009, the UCLA School of Dentistry honored him with its Honorary Alumnus of the Year Award, and in 2010 the National Dental Association awarded him the Faculty Recognition Award in Education.   

For many years Hargis continued to see and treat private patients as a volunteer in the intramural faculty practice. His sole purpose for continuing to perform surgery was because of his love for the specialty and to enhance resident education, colleagues said. At his suggestion, all patient-care fees collected on his behalf went to a special fund for OMS resident education.

"The lives of the students and residents who trained under Dr. Hargis will be forever changed," said Dr. Earl Freymiller, chair of the section of oral and maxillofacial. "Harold's greatest joy in life was to help his students expand their knowledge and progress their careers."