Legacy of late periodontist lives on through dental student scholarships

Man in suit smiling

Dr. Emile T. Fisher was a generous man. A plaque in the lobby of the Dental College of Georgia building recognizes the late periodontist, philanthropist, community leader and volunteer for his leadership support of the capital campaign that helped fund the construction of the state-of-the-art, five-story dental training and patient care facility.

What this honorary plaque does not include is the names of the hundreds of dental students Fisher has impacted through scholarship support – made possible by the gifts he has given to Augusta University during his lifetime and posthumously through his estate.

His impoverished upbringing may be a clue to the motivation behind his big-heartedness. Fisher grew up with four siblings in what he once described as “a very, very poor household.” Though he knew he wanted to be a dentist, Fisher also realized the road to that goal would be a long one – he had to work several years and save every paycheck before he could afford to enter college.

But Fisher was tenacious and never wavered in his commitment to pursue his chosen profession. So driven was he, that after graduating from dental school at Emory University, he worked nights at an insurance company to pay for post-graduate education for his periodontal degree from Northwestern University.

It was this hardscrabble path that inspired him to help others, to make the way easier for them than it was for him.

Fisher had an unparalleled generosity of spirit, according to his sole surviving sibling, Jean Fisher Smith. She said he was fiercely committed to making life easier for others and that his philanthropy extended to many organizations focused on dental education, but also to Wake Forest University, his undergraduate college, and the Cathedral of St. Phillip in Atlanta, his beloved Episcopal church.

Fisher was also charitable with his time and expertise, serving on the boards of several dental societies, often as president. He provided periodontal care to indigent patients at an Atlanta clinic for many years and helped lead the successful effort to add sodium fluoride to Atlanta’s water supply to help prevent cavities in children’s teeth.

Fisher assisted the greater Atlanta area community through the Arthritis Foundation, American Cancer Society, Georgia Heart Association, Helping Hands, and the American Red Cross. He was also a member of Forward Atlanta and the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

It is hard to imagine how a man who gave so much and served so selflessly throughout his lifetime could make time for those he loved.

“He was the best brother a sister could possibly have,” Jean Fisher Smith said. “When I went away to college, he wrote a letter to me every week.”

Sensing that she may be lonely, Fisher wanted to make sure his beloved sister did not go a week without having a letter in her mailbox.

Later in life the two siblings traveled extensively.

“My brother wanted to show his little sister – the baby of the family – the world, and so we embarked on 16 amazing trips together, including 12 that were overseas,” said Fisher Smith.

In 2008, Fisher presented his sister with a plaque of her own, a gift she is too modest to display. In essence, it is a letter expressing his love and adoration for her.

Their bond was close, and Fisher Smith still thinks of her brother often, even after his passing in 2020 at age 96. When reflecting upon his memory, Fisher Smith speaks of her deep love, respect and adoration for Fisher, who entrusted her with managing the affairs of his estate.

“I can sense his presence and often feel him looking over my shoulder and guiding me in such matters,” said Fisher Smith.

Although Fisher is no longer here to witness it, his legacy of generosity will continue providing invaluable scholarships to dental students in perpetuity.

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Augusta University Staff is a collection of talented writers, photographers, students and professionals; all working together to promote and support the amazing impacts and every day wins of Augusta University and the people that make up JagNation.

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