Gift signifies dentist’s gratitude for education

Dr. Richard W. Cottrell (D.D.S. ’98) began his academic path later than most. Originally from Forked River, N.J., Cottrell moved to Virginia in his early 20s in search of work, because opportunities were slim in New Jersey in the 1980s. He found a job installing flooring and quickly recognized that he needed to do something more.

“I realized it was a hard job, and it didn’t seem like I could ever get ahead, so I decided to go to college,” Cottrell said.

He began his education at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College at age 26 and graduated from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry in 1998. Cottrell then went to work establishing a dental practice in rural King George, Va., which was experiencing a shortage of dentists at the time.

Things were tough in the beginning, mainly because he was doing all the work himself. His experience with floor installation came in handy then, he said.

“I put the walls down on my practice, put my floors down, built it myself,” he said.

Cottrell’s practice has grown considerably since those lean early days. He now operates offices in King George, Fredericksburg, Bowling Green and Callao. He attributes the quick growth of his practice to his active role in the communities he serves. These days, Cottrell volunteers at the Moss Free Clinic, a public health clinic that provides dental care to underserved individuals in Fredericksburg.

“You have to be trusted as a dentist — once patients feel like you care, then they’ll come to you,” he said.

Cottrell said he is eternally grateful to his alma mater for giving him the education he needed to be where he is today. Cottrell appreciated VCU’s diverse student body — as an older student, he didn’t feel so out of place, as he had with the teenagers in his classes at Reynolds. The School of Dentistry “taught me to be a great dentist,” he said.

His wife, Pamela, is also a VCU School of Dentistry graduate who earned a dental hygiene degree in 2002. Cottrell and his wife met when she was an undergraduate at Radford University. She was unsure if dentistry was for her so she decided to get a job in the field, working for him as an assistant. Eventually, she completed her education and married Cottrell.

To show his gratitude to the university that helped him rise from his humble beginnings, Cottrell recently pledged $100,000 to the school.

“Dr. Cottrell has worked hard over the years in all he has done, and he and his family have reaped the benefits,” said Ed Kardos, director of development for the School of Dentistry. “He is a perfect example of how furthering one’s education can make all the difference in the world. His generosity helps inspire others to follow suit.”

Cottrell hopes his gift will help the school survive these tough economic times.

“I know they need the money to keep things going. I hope they can pay people better, keep the technology modern and state-of-the-art and move forward instead of backward,” he said.

To make a gift to the School of Dentistry, contact Ed Kardos, director of development, at (804) 828-0324 or