Flying dentist found fulfillment in serving poor

Ben Johnston loaded up his Cessna every February and flew south to join his colleagues in remote areas of Honduras, Guatemala or Mexico to provide dental care to people who normally didn't get it.

That's where they took their vacations, said his wife of 52 years, Kay Johnston. He was just happy he could go.

Dr. P. Ben Johnston of New Ken-sington died Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, in his home of complications from Alzheimer's disease. He was 86.

An Army dental officer during the Korean War, Dr. Johnston taught dentistry at the University of Pittsburgh and had an orthodontics practice in New Kensington and Lower Burrell for 41 years.

He combined his love of flying with his desire to help others through the Flying Dentists Association, a national organization that provides free medical treatment to impoverished communities.

He always told stories about his trips and often showed pictures of what they did, his wife said.

Some of her husband's favorite memories were of those weeklong trips and the people they helped.

Dr. Johnston served on the Westmoreland County Airport Authority from 1980-89.

He really enjoyed that, his wife said.

Dr. Johnston loved boating and took his family on trips on the Allegheny River. He loved to travel and instilled that into his family.

He was a very adventurous person, said his son, Paul Johnston of Irvine, Calif. He got that from his parents.

Dr. Johnston's mother and father, the late Cecil and Hazel Johnston, drove coast-to-coast in the 1920s, Paul Johnston said. Cecil Johnston helped build a cabin in Yosemite National Park in California.

Every summer we went camping Myrtle Beach, cross-country, Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore, he said. He took us to Hawaii one year.

When he wasn't traveling, he was on the golf course, his son said.

Dr. Johnston was a member of River-A Community Church in New Kensington and an avid learner, his son said.

In addition to his parents, he was predeceased by his first wife, Shirlee Johnston.

He is survived by his wife, Kay, and his six children, Paul; Mark; Cindy; Jack and wife, Jean; Rick and wife, Pam; and Stephen and wife, Kathy; 11 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Dr. Johnston's family will celebrate his life in a private funeral service Monday.

Memorial donations may be made to The Alzheimer's Association at

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or csm[email protected]