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Dr. Jack Brown to receive Distinguished Service Award

Dr. L. Jackson Brown, just “Jack” to all who know him, is a soft-spoken dental research scientist who weighs his words carefully and never overstates his case. When he writes a paper or delivers a speech, his approach is always deliberate, direct, as unpretentious as his taste in neckties.

IMAGE: Dr. L. Jackson Brown
Dr. Brown: Calls his time with the ADA “among the most enjoyable and productive years of my life.”

All concepts are supported by facts. There are no false moves or flashy gestures, nothing that might call attention to the fact that underlying his unadorned presentation is an intellect—a depth of knowledge and understanding—that is unsurpassed in the health care field.

Jack Brown is a rare combination of talents and experience. He is a dentist, but also an economist, epidemiologist, researcher, consultant and, most recently, a dental editor. He has authored or co-authored about 120 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals and about 30 books or book chapters. Add to these distinctions his roles as husband for 45 years to wife Mary, father of three sons and grandfather of nine and you have a well-rounded life.

And now Dr. Brown, a longtime dental researcher, past member of the ADA senior staff and current editor of the Journal of Dental Education, is on the brink of another agreeable distinction.

At the ADA Annual Session in Las Vegas, he will receive the Association’s 2011 Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Board of Trustees.

“This was not something I was expecting at all,” said Dr. Brown, who learned of the honor through a phone call and follow-up letter from Dr. Raymond Gist, ADA president. The award will be presented at the first meeting of the ADA House of Delegates Oct. 10.

“It was a very welcome surprise, and I was extremely honored,” Dr. Brown said of the award.

Born and raised in Carrollton, Mo. (pop: 4,100 today), he entered the University of Missouri in the early 1960s intending to study electrical engineering.

Like the rest of the nation in those days, young Jack was caught up in the fledgling space race. The Soviet Union had launched its unmanned satellite Sputnik, and President Kennedy had set an ambitious goal: the moon by the end of the decade.

“Everyone thought we were behind in science, so they were encouraging young people to go into science,” Dr. Brown recalled.

After two years, he decided that electrical engineering was not for him. A career in dentistry had its attractions, he thought: the opportunity to control one’s own life, to interact with others and contribute to the common good.

He earned his dental degree at Missouri in 1969 and completed what was then an internship (now a general practice residency) at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Kansas City.

“They put me in charge of an outpatient service,” he said of his work with the VA. “It was during the Vietnam War, and there were men and women coming back from the war needing a great deal of care. That got me thinking about how we could do this [deliver care] more efficiently.”

And that, in turn, led to an interest in economics and in epidemiology—the study of health-related patterns in society—and prompted a move to New York City where Dr. Brown would earn a master’s degree and later a doctorate in social medical science from Columbia University.

In the mid-1970s, he began what would be two decades of government service in health care research. In 1991, he was named director, the Division of Epidemiology and Oral Disease Prevention, the National Institute of Dental Research (now the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research).

At the research institute, he worked under the legendary Harald Loe (NIDR/NIDCR director, 1983-94), whom he counted as a friend and mentor.

Dr. Brown joined the ADA staff in 1996 as associate executive director overseeing the Health Policy Resources Center, the ADA’s main source of information and analysis on dental practice, economics and epidemiology.

In that role, he also served as lead staff on the 2001 Future of Dentistry Project, working closely with Dr. Leslie Seldin, who chaired the project’s oversight committee.

“Jack is a warm, caring man who has devoted himself to his work and the dental profession,” said Dr. Seldin, a past vice president of the ADA and himself a recipient of the Distinguished Service Award (2008).

Added Dr. Seldin, “Jack was my partner, my collaborator and the driving force behind the 2001 Future of Dentistry report—but most of all, he has been a close and valued friend.”

Dr. Brown spent 11 years with the ADA, stepping down in 2007. He looks back on his time with the Association “among the most enjoyable and productive years of my life.”

The ADA, he said, “treated me very well, allowing me to do much of the research that I recommended.”

Ending his tenure with the ADA, Dr. Brown started a consulting firm, L. Jackson Brown Consulting LLC, and was named editor of the Journal of Dental Education, the monthly peer-reviewed publication of the American Dental Education Association.

(His move to ADEA, together with his earlier work, gave him the distinction of having served as a senior executive with three major dental organizations.)

Dr. Richard Valachovic, ADEA executive director, credited Dr. Brown with introducing online manuscript submission and review—essentially the same process used by The Journal of the American Dental Association—and dramatically boosting the volume of submissions to JDE.

He also hailed Dr. Brown for helping junior faculty navigate the process of writing and submitting manuscripts.

Added Dr. Valachovic, “Jack is an incredibly bright, intuitive and forward-thinking scholar who has had tremendous experience and has brought a wealth of that experience to the world of dental education—and we are better for it.”

One of Dr. Brown’s longtime colleagues interviewed for this article claimed he had found a flaw in the DSA recipient’s character: he can’t say no.

“I mean he would never say no” to a request for help, said Dr. Albert Guay, ADA’s chief policy advisor and a close friend of Dr. Brown’s. “He would say yes and then figure out how to do it.”

In such flaws are found the seeds of greatness.