"You've got to pick a pocket or two"
Thank you Alistair Devlin, President of the Dental Alumni, and your Committee for this honour as the inductee of the Campbell-Wilson Roll of Honour for 2012. When I received your letter, Alistair, some months ago, I was literally gobsmacked, because this has always been an occasion where many of my heroes in dentistry have been honoured. When you see names like John McGeachie, Ted Adler, Pat Henry, Bruce Barblett, David Booth, Rob Bower and many others; it would be an understatement to say that one would feel very pretentious to be included in that company. So it is with great humility that I accept this honour.
Then there is always a catch, because the next paragraph of Alistair's letter informed me that I had to deliver an oration, on any subject vaguely connected with dentistry. Well, I have delivered many lectures over the years, but an oration sounded very intimidating. It drove me straight to the Oxford Dictionary to define an oration - which horrified me even more. Definition 1: a formal public declaration or speech, and Definition 2: any rhetorical, lengthy or pompous speech. Then the next line defined an orator - a public speaker given to lengthy and pompous speeches. Therein lies the first contradiction of being humble and pompous at the same time. Lengthy isn't a problem as I could keep you here for as long as you want. It crossed my mind to call a great orator like Barack Obama for advice, but I suspect his minders would tell me he is busy with an election. So I am basically none the wiser, and you will just have to put up with the ramblings of a dental dinosaur.
Alistair's letter indicated that the Campbell-Wilson Roll of Honour was established in 1995 by the UWA Dental Alumni Society to recognise those who have contributed to the profession, especially for contributions to dental education. I find myself fortunate that very early in my dental education I met and befriended a legendary teacher who to this day continues weave his magic in imparting knowledge in a way that we have all admired and benefitted from. I speak of none other than John McGeachie, and he has been to me, and I am sure to many of you, one of the most inspiring teachers we have ever come across. I first met John in 1970 when I joined second year dentistry after completing a Science degree. Needless to say, I was seeking some exemptions in units that I had already completed in Science but I came across some bureaucratic obstacles. It so happened that John was the second year course controller and so I made an appointment to see him to plead my case. I was a resident at St George's College at the time and by chance had a talk with the Warden before seeing John. The Warden was none other than the eccentric Dr Josh Reynolds, who on hearing my predicament, and who I was seeing, immediately informed me that John was an old boy of the College, and I should pass on "his best regards". So when I met John for the first time, I quickly informed him, that "Josh sends his regards"; to which he responded, albeit affectionately, "How's the old bastard?" The appointment went all too quickly, as we chatted about Josh and College life; and it appeared that we belonged to a common experience, which had a very positive effect on our lives. I walked out of John's office with exemptions in Histology, Biochemistry and Physiology; but more importantly it gave me a sense of common belonging, and in many ways this has been the underlying joy in my career in that I have belonged to a wonderful profession, with so many wonderful colleagues and friends (and I thank many of you who are here this evening).
Some years ago, whilst indulging in one of my favourite pastimes of browsing through bookshops, I stumbled on a bestseller called "Eternal Echoes - Exploring Our Hunger To Belong" by an Irish author and philosopher, John O'Donohue. I am in awe of good literary expression, and I marvel on how this book is so exquisitely crafted to explore that most basic of human desires - the desire to belong. Allow me to quote a paragraph to illustrate my point: (unfortunately without the lovely Irish accent). "The hunger to belong is at the heart of our nature. Cut off from others, we atrophy and turn in on ourselves. Mostly, we do not need to make an issue of belonging; when we belong, we take it for granted. Merely to be excluded or to sense rejection hurts. When we become isolated, we are prone to be damaged; our minds lose their flexibility and natural kindness. We become vulnerable to fear and negativity. A sense of belonging, however, suggests warmth, understanding and embrace. The ancient and eternal values of human life - truth, unity, goodness, justice, beauty and love - are all statements of true belonging.
..... Something within each of us cries out for belonging. We can have all the world has to offer in terms of status, achievement and possessions, yet without a true sense of belonging, our lives feel empty and pointless."
So we are very fortunate as a profession that from the day I joined the Dental School, through to graduation and beyond, I was given the opportunity to belong, and with that opportunity I was also given the privilege to contribute to the profession. My greatest enjoyment, apart from clinical practice, has been that of teaching, of which I have been involved since my first year after graduation, when John Lewis asked me to demonstrate in Pros. Over the last four decades I have been involved with teaching at the undergraduate, postgraduate and also at the continuing education level, together with various research projects. I keep saying that this is the last year of teaching, and then you get another keen, smart postgrad student, and you postpone for another year or two. However, it is a very special privilege to be part of students' aspirations, and to help them achieve it.
A/Prof Alistair Devlin (Dentistry, School of/Oral Health Centre of Western Australia (OHCWA)) (+61) 8 9346 7552.