Retired Dentistry Professor Francis Merrill Foster Sr. dies

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Dr. Francis Merrill Foster Sr., an assistant professor of general-practice dentistry at Virginia Commonwealth University and a retired Richmond dentist, died Sunday from cancer. He was 86.

Foster joined VCU in 1991, after retiring from his private dental practice. He tried to bring a sense of community to all his students, he said in a 2006 interview for VCU Libraries’ Oral History Project.

“The opportunity to work cooperatively and reach out to people and to students has been something that I try to do. I try to recognize and bring to them the sense of, I guess you would call it, being drawn together,” Foster said.

“If you get some bright students, they’ll always want to talk to you. … But what you want to do, you want to reach that student who might not be doing well, who needs someone to champion them. Let them know that if they just keep on pushing that they have somebody here that will keep the door open for you.”

A life-long Richmond resident, Foster was the youngest of seven children. He graduated from Virginia Union University in 1942 and from the Howard University College of Dentistry in 1946. During World War II, he served as captain in the U.S. Army Dental Corps.

The unofficial historian of Jackson Ward, Foster was known for his health-care advocacy and for his desire to improve the lives of those around him.

His many board and committee assignments included the Virginia Board of Dentistry, the Virginia Health Regulatory Board, the Richmond School Board, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Maggie L. Walker Foundation.

In 2003, he received the Urban League of Greater Richmond’s Lifetime Achievement Award. The following year, he received the first Semper Virginia Society Award by the Library of Virginia Foundation. In 2006, he received the Strong Men and Women of Excellence Award from Dominion Resources.

More information on Dr. Foster can be found in the Jan. 7, 2008, Richmond Times-Dispatch.