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Dr. Alvin L. Morris, a Distinguished Service Award recipient, dies at 86

November 04, 2013

By Kimber Solana, ADA News staff

Dr. Morris
Lexington, Ky.—Dr. Alvin L. Morris, a former recipient of the ADA Distinguished Service Award, died Oct. 10. He was 86 years old.

Dr. Morris spent his career in dentistry accumulating an impressive list of achievements with a focus in health policy research, academia and the education of future dentists.

At age 34, he was hired as the founding dean of the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry in 1961.

“He overcame his youth,” said Beth Wofford, Dr. Morris' daughter. “He walked into an empty building and was both excited and determined. He was a visionary and was imagining the possibilities.”

However, Dr. Morris also faced some pushback from the University of Louisville, which at the time already had a school of dentistry, Ms. Wofford said.

“He was this young guy who just blew into town basically,” she said. “But he won them over. He worked with them and somehow took it from a competition to a collaboration.”

One year later, the college of dentistry opened its doors to a small class of 20 students.

“When he went into dental school, it was extremely competitive. He thought everyone hated his or her dental school experience,” she said. “When he founded the school, he was determined to change that. From the beginning everyone wore white coats and everyone referred to each other as 'doctor.'“

The college adopted a diagonal curriculum, which immediately introduced students to clinical experience along with basic science instead of waiting until their third year.

“Alvin Morris was a true visionary who understood strategic planning before anyone else knew what it was,” said Dr. Sharon P. Turner, UK College of Dentistry dean. “The three-part mantra that he developed and role modeled was that graduates of UKCD should be medically knowledgeable, surgically competent and socially sensitive in order to be exemplary practitioners of dental and oral health care. There is no better legacy than over 2,000 dentists upholding his mantra in their practices everyday.”

Dr. Morris was dean through 1968.

At the school's 50th anniversary in October 2012, Dr. Morris and his wife Beverly cut the college's 50th birthday cake.

Born on July 2, 1927, in Detroit, Dr. Morris' career in dentistry began after his service in the U.S. Army during World War II. He graduated in 1951 from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and served a three-year tour in the Army Dental Corps. Dr. Morris earned a doctorate in experimental pathology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in 1957—four years before becoming founding dean of the UK College of Dentistry.

Subsequently after serving as dean, he became the assistant vice president for the UK Medical Center and later the vice president for administration of the University of Kentucky.

Dr. Morris was president of the American Fund for Dental Education from 1970 to 1974 and for six years was a member of the ADA Council on Dental Therapeutics.

In 1976, he served as executive director of the nonprofit Association for Academic Health Centers and was instrumental in creating a national office in Washington, D.C.

He served as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Center for Health Services Research. Past ADA president Joe Cappuccio appointed Dr. Morris chair of a search committee to seek a new ADA executive director in 1979. In 1985, Dr. Morris became the 15th recipient of the ADA Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor conferred by the Board of Trustees annually.

He was a member of the Board of Directors of the National Center for Health Education, the Commission on Dental Accreditation's Advisory Committee on Advanced Educational Programs in General Dentistry and a founding member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

After retirement, he continued to serve by joining a medical mission team on the Amazon River in Peru, and he was deployed to New Orleans as a Red Cross volunteer following Hurricane Katrina.

Dr. Morris is pre-deceased by his first wife Arlene, and survived by his second, Beverly; sons Jeffry, Gregg; daughter Beth; stepdaughter Rebecca; and stepson William; and nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

A memorial service for Dr. Morris was held Oct. 12.