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Former Pittsburgh dentist revered for humanitarian, civil rights work

| Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, 12:01 a.m.
Dr. Hugh Raymond Primas Jr., a Korean war veteran, civil rights activist and international humanitarian, passed away at his home in Glendale, Ariz., on Aug. 25, 2015. He will be eulogized and buried in his native Pittsburgh on Monday. Mr. Primas was 90.
Dr. Hugh Raymond Primas Jr., a Korean war veteran, civil rights activist and international humanitarian, passed away at his home in Glendale, Ariz., on Aug. 25, 2015. He will be eulogized and buried in his native Pittsburgh on Monday. Mr. Primas was 90.

Nikki Primas Gaines realized at an early age that her dad was important, well-respected — even revered.

“He made an impression on people,” she said. “But for me, he was really just dad. I remember the first day my brother went to school, and I cried my eyes out. My father decided not to go into the practice that day and he took me to Boggs & Buhl department store Downtown and bought me a dress, just so I wouldn't cry.

“I remember that. He was larger than life, but he was still a dad.”

Dr. Hugh Raymond Primas Jr., a Korean War veteran, civil rights activist and international humanitarian, passed away at his home in Glendale, Ariz., on Aug. 25, 2015. He will be eulogized and buried in his native Pittsburgh on Monday. Mr. Primas was 90.

To those who did not know Mr. Primas, he was a dentist — and perhaps nothing more. But to the legions of people he inspired, mentored and helped, he was a leader whose goodwill efforts were felt globally.

A dentist by trade, Mr. Primas led multiple trips in the 1970s to deliver health care and aid to African countries. During his retirement years in Arizona, he provided free dental care to migrant children from Mexico.

“He was a pioneer in international health,” longtime colleague and friend Dr. David Anderson said. “He was the godfather everyone wanted, and, indeed, had.”

An Oliver High School graduate, Mr. Primas studied dentistry at the University Of Pittsburgh, where he would later become a professor and, in 2007, a Pitt Legacy Laureate — the university's highest alumni honor. He served as president of the National Dental Association — which represented black dentists who were barred at the time from joining the American Dental Association — from 1965 to 1966.

“He was incredibly accomplished, particularly for a black man at a time when black men weren't necessarily given the same opportunities we are today,” said G. Ryin Gaines, Mr. Primas' grandson. “He truly believed that all men were created equal, and that we should represent that and embody that.”

Ken Love, a filmmaker and National Geographic photographer, called Mr. Primas his mentor, though their trades were so different.

“He taught me how to think outside the box,” said Love, who met Mr. Primas at Pitt and traveled with him to Africa to document conditions there. “It was unusual, especially at that time, for a black man to mentor a white man. But I had a role model with international reach. He totally took me under his wing. It would have been a different path without Dr. Primas.”

In addition to his daughter, Nikki, and grandson, Ryin, Mr. Primas is survived by his son, Hugh Raymond III of Greensboro, N.C., and three grandchildren.

A service will be held Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, at Bidwell Presbyterian Church, 1025 Liverpool St., 15233. Interment will follow the service at Uniondale Cemetery, 2200 Brighton Road., 15212.

Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or ctogneri@tribweb.com.

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