L. T. Higgins, DDS, MS
September 12, 1930 – January 23, 2019
Quintessentially humble and understated, he would have none of this. So we say it for him: Len lived a long, magnificent, purpose-driven life. Compelled by iron will, iron faith, iron resolve to be useful — to family, to friends, to those in need. Among good and decent men ever thoughtful of others, Dr. Leonard T. Higgins is Exhibit A.
Born not in a hospital but on a hardscrabble farm in South Dakota, he came as a young boy with his parents and sister to seek a better life in Omaha—and instead met the teeth of The Great Depression. That merely sharpened his resolve. Mindful of his parents’ insistence on education and service, he set forth on a vigorous, nonstop, self-made journey. From the start, he hated to sit—and rarely did, even well into his ninth decade.
He fed his faith at Holy Angels Church and Grade School. Founder and pastor-for-life Monsignor Patrick Aloysius Flanagan—brother of Edward—was a brilliant and saintly but stern man who scared the devil out of school children. Not Len. He was one of few who could make Monsignor smile. As a reward, he was called from school on warm spring days to caddy Monsignor’s horrible golf game. He spent most of it, Len said with a grin, hunting holy golf balls in deep rough.
He worked his way through Creighton Prep, then Creighton University, then post-grad study, and soon became one of Omaha’s most in-demand oral surgeons. His trademark was a ready smile, boundless energy —and fast, gifted, rock-steady hands unafraid to solve wicked malfunction, disease and accident to mouth, teeth and jaw.
Len’s office at his beloved Medical Arts Building was routinely packed with patients, and we long ago lost count of the families he treated over three generations. That, of course, wasn’t nearly enough for Len. In the days before health network consolidation, he also worked from all 11 metro hospitals. That makes today’s docs, who mostly consider 3 or 4 a heavy load, shake their heads in disbelief. Oh, and just for good measure: Len was a longtime teacher at Creighton School of Dentistry, including a decade as chairman of the department of oral surgery.
He saw need and answered it. Corrected cleft palates in the Amazon. Extracted rotten, infected teeth of Omaha homeless. Pulled impacted wisdom teeth at Nebraska community clinics. All free.
He kept a dizzying volunteer pace lifelong, serving on boards and committees of his profession, local high schools and universities, and, until just weeks ago, for several non-profits in the community. Among his favorites were those who help people in time of difficulty, including Habitat for Humanity, St. Vincent de Paul Society and Siena/Francis House. No task was beneath him; he took joy in serving meals, clean-up, whatever needed to be done.
In an exceptional stretch of service, he served as a trustee for St. Margaret Mary parish over four decades. More often than not, he was at daily Mass. More often than not, he—again—raised his hand for whatever needed to be done at church and school. And because all that still wasn’t enough to do: he bought a 25-unit apartment building in 1975, managed it himself for 30 years, then converted to condos. Wags kidded him: “L.T., you may be certifiably crazy.”
What made Len, Len? There is consensus among his patients, students, family, friends—and strangers he daily made friends.
That it was always about you. Not him.
That there was no pretense. Genuine to the bone.
That he was all-in. Every day.
That you had his full focus.
His megawatt smile beaming light into your day.
His perpetually cheerful outlook, no matter what adversity he faced.
His easy way with all walks of life, young or old, rich or poor.
And, yes, those dazzling blue eyes.
These were part of his gift, his uncanny ability. We didn’t always know it at the time, but Len—just by entering the room—could instantly make you feel better about yourself, better about the world, better about tomorrow—all without saying a word.
He almost never got mad, showed pain or complained. He was like The Black Knight in the comedy movie, Monty Python and The Holy Grail. How? You could virtually hack his limbs off, and Len would say: “Can’t hurt steel.” To which his son-in-law Phil replied: “Yes, but steel rusts.”
Like his father before him, Len’s quiet, droll humor ambushed you. It cascaded in layers as you ‘got it.’ He was funniest when he wasn’t trying to be funny. He had a knack for getting himself into comic predicaments that became the stuff of family folklore. Like a sunken boat, a locked staircase in Chicago, slipping and sliding 100 yards down a glacier, ripping the shell off a pickup after ignoring low-clearance sign at airport garage. No, those don’t even make the Top 10.
Like his father before him, Len could be commonly found, well past 80, high on a ladder, headed to a roof fix or tree trim. Because, well, things just need to be done. When his family scolded him, he’d grin and climb higher. Enjoying his mischief.
He had a litany of well-worn sayings—pearls of wisdom—that prompted eye-rolling among Rita and his kids. Strange how this works: the older the kids got, the truer those sayings became. So they emblazoned them on family t-shirts in kidding and celebration.
Among many calls on his time, he put family first. He was fully present for his children—and loved nothing more than bouncing a baby. He knew he’d be lost without Rita, his wife and best friend of 63 years, his co-conspirator in faith and service to others.
Beginning to end, Len knew it was ever about life’s journey. Not the destination. Do things right, treat people right, day by day. That’s the only standard for life well-lived. Not any of the other nonsense. Len left this legacy for his family. He set a superb example — for how to live, for how to be, for what matters, for what doesn’t. We shall stand always on his shoulders.
Preceded in death by parents, Harold and Agnes; brother, Robert; sister, Carol Costello. Survived by wife, Rita; children: Michael, James (Tami), Christina Higgins Buck (Phil), Mary (Kal) Patel, John (Amy); grandchildren: Madeleine Higgins, Max Buck, Samuel Leonard Buck, Ben Higgins, Jane Higgins, Ari Patel; sister, Virginia Higgins; brother, Patrick (Shawnie).
VISITATION AND VIGIL: Sunday, Jan. 27th from 4pm to 6pm at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church, 6116 Dodge St., with ROSARY at 6pm. MASS OF CHRISTIAN BURIAL: Monday, Jan. 28th at 10am at St. Margaret Mary Church, followed by lunch on lower level. Interment: Monday, 1:30pm, Calvary Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorials to St. Margaret Mary Church, Fr. Michael Mukasa Ugandan Education Fund, Creighton Prep, or Marian High School.