Dorothy Ann Geddes - A College Pioneer

Dorothy Ann Geddes - A College Pioneer

Steven Kerr from the RCSEd Library & Archive looks back on the life and work of Dorothy Ann Geddes.

Last week marked the anniversary of the admission of one of our most significant Dental Fellows, Dorothy Ann Geddes (1936 – 1998), who served as the former Dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and Professor of Oral Biology, University of Glasgow.

Dorothy Geddes was born on 8 May 1936 in Alloa and was educated at Brechin High School. Despite being both left-handed and dyslexic she chose dentistry as a career; all the more surprising since early indications of her abilities had pointed towards an arts degree. She overcame her handicaps and after a distinguished undergraduate career graduated from Edinburgh University in 1959. Under the charismatic guidance of Professor W. D. MacLennan, she specialised in Oral Surgery, and on 15 February 1963 'took her seat' as the first lady to be awarded the fellowship in Dental Surgery of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

After working as a senior registrar in oral surgery in Birmingham, Professor Geddes realised that the probability of achieving a Consultancy in oral surgery - despite her obvious ability - was minimal. She made a career change and moved to the Eastman Dental Centre in Rochester, New York, where she carried out research into dental caries. On returning from the United States she worked with Professor Neil Jenkins in Newcastle where she was funded for 6 years by the Medical Research Council prior to being appointed to a Lectureship at Glasgow Dental Hospital and School. Glasgow University recognised her abilities and achievements and in 1990 she was appointed to a Personal Chair; the first lady Professor in Dentistry in the United Kingdom. She also became President of the Royal Odonto-Chirugical Society of Scotland and President of the West of Scotland Branch of the British Dental Association. Within the BDA she chaired the Committee representing Dental Teachers and Research Workers.

Professor Geddes was determined and professionally shrewd, but brought a calming approach to her teaching and instilled in her students a deep concern for patients. This empathy to her patients extended to those same students whom she counselled wisely and in confidence. In the little leisure time she allowed herself, she enjoyed the opera, gardening, and the company of her cats. Indeed, a cat can actually be seen in the College’s portrait of Professor Geddes, which currently hangs in the MacLaren Research Centre. As a talented artist she also continued to paint whenever possible.

After 10 years of committed service as an RCSEd Dental Councillor she was duly elected Convener of the Dental Council and Dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery. In this she completed a unique triple; first female FDS RCSEd, first female Professor in dentistry in the United Kingdom and the first female Dean of a Faculty of Dental Surgery of any Royal Surgical College in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Under her stewardship Dental Councillors were expected to be on top of their responsibilities and pull their weight, and many of the initiatives now coming to fruition can be traced back to her Deanship.

In 1995 she was awarded an OBE. In December 199S, just a little over one year after demitting office as Dean to the Faculty of Dental Surgery, Professor Geddes was awarded the highest honour the College can bestow; its Honorary FRCSEd.

Dorothy Geddes died on 14 March 1998 in Cove, Dunbartonshire.

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