Longtime Wilmette resident and former Pioneer Press Volunteer of the Year Ronald Gilbert died June 3 following a 10-year struggle with a chronic lung disease. He was 79.
Dr. Gilbert was born June 22, 1931, in Chicago, but was a Wilmette resident for the last 48 years.
Dr. Gilbert graduated from Loyola University in 1950 and from Northwestern University’s Dental School in 1954. He later served with the U.S. Army Dental Corps.
During his 31-year career in dentistry, he worked in private practice, and served on the faculties of Northwestern’s Dental School and that of the Chicago Medical School.
Dr. Gilbert became chairman of the dental surgery departments at Mount Sinai and Skokie Valley hospitals, and he initiated dental internship and residency programs at Mount Sinai. He was a fellow at the Institute of Medicine and was president of the North Side branch of the Chicago Dental Society.
Dr. Gilbert was elected to the Illinois State Dental Society’s executive council, and was president of the Illinois Foundation of Dentistry for the Handicapped.
Dr. Gilbert’s life of volunteerism and civic activism began early, according to his granddaughter Katherine Don. As a sixth-grade student during World War II, a Chicago Tribune article singled him out as the boy who collected the most scrap metal and old newspapers during a materials drive.
As an older teenager during the early 1950s, Dr. Gilbert helped start the first Jewish fraternity at Loyola University. Later, as he paid his way through dental school, he was fired from the art supply company where he worked, for spearheading a unionization campaign against the company’s dismal working conditions.
Dr. Gilbert served from 1954-56 in the Army dental corps, leaving with the rank of captain.
Don said her grandfather was serving in Fort Dix when he became involved in an incident that reflected his sense of justice: When a lieutenant became irate with an African-American soldier and demanded that the soldier salute him 100 times, Dr. Gilbert, who outranked the lieutenant, stepped in and demanded that the lieutenant then salute the soldier 100 times.
After Dr. Gilbert’s retirement in 1986, he embarked on a second career as a full-time volunteer, Don said.
Dr. Gilbert was founder and president of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Society of Illinois.
Dr. Gilbert was a member of the Wilmette Board of Health, and he chaired the New Trier Township Health and Human Services Committee.
He was a member of the Wilmette School District 39 Education Foundation.
He also served as chairman of the New Trier Township branch of the Metropolitan Chicago Heart Association, and founded the Lutheran General Hospital Mended Hearts chapter, for which he served as president.
In 1994, Dr. Gilbert founded the Cancer Care Foundation, which provides free therapy services and emergency financial aid to cancer patients and their families.
He was chosen as Wilmette Rotary citizen of the year, and as a Pioneer Press Volunteer of the Year in 2001.
He also was a recipient of the Cook County Sheriff’s Senior Medal of Honor award.
Dr. Gilbert is survived by his wife, Syril; his daughter, Roselynn Gilbert Don (Gary Hutter), and son Arthur Gilbert (Theresa Buckman-Gilbert); grandchildren Katherine and David Don, and Timothy and Joseph Ruel; and a sister, Sandra Goldstein (Seymour).
Services were held June 6.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Cancer Care Foundation, P.O. Box 4651, Skokie IL 60076.