Citations and Speeches


173rd Congregation (2006)

William Ian Rees DAVIES
SBS, BDS, MSc, Dip in Periodontics, FDS RCS< FDS RCSEd, FHKAM(Dental Surgery), FCDSHK, JP, Professor

The Public Orator, Dr Elaine Yee-lin Ho, wrote and delivered the following citation:

William Ian Rees Davies is the only son of a family from South Wales. His parents were modest working people who believed strongly in education, and the young Ian Davies did not disappoint them. He was always the top student at school, and sought every opportunity outside of academic work to better his knowledge of the world. One of his early mentors and role model was the local dentist whom he used to visit after school; he would watch with fascination as the dentist did his work, and listen and learn as his mentor talked to and reassured patients.

So when he decided to go to university in London, dentistry seemed a natural choice. He graduated from University College Hospital’s Dental School, and then became the first dental student from Britain to win the prestigious Thouron Fellowship to the University of Pennsylvania. When he returned to London, it was to a job as junior lecturer at University College Hospital, and in no time, he was promoted to Senior Lecturer.

In 1980 came a new challenge: the planning and implementation of a completely new university dental curriculum. He took up the first Chair of Periodontology and Public Health at Hong Kong University, and became one of the founding members of the Faculty of Dentistry in 1983, the first and the only faculty of its kind in Hong Kong. Periodontology and Public Health was an unusual combination at the time, and his work in integrating the two aspects of his professorial appointment was, at first, strongly resisted from both within and outside academia. But his professional integrity and personal cordiality gradually won the support of both his colleagues and the dental profession. As Dean of Dentistry from 1983 to 1989, he consolidated the Faculty’s professional work, guided its curriculum development, and mapped out its public oral health policy, while as a Director of the Prince Philip Dental Hospital, he worked to promote dental hygiene and proper dental care for the entire population of Hong Kong.

In 1988, Professor Davies was invited by the government’s Medical Development Advisory Committee to chair the Dentists sub-committee and to deliberate and report on dental manpower requirements for Hong Kong to the year 2000. His 1988 report contains such gems of information as ‘in a survey of a group of 15-19-year olds, more than half had either not visited a dentist for three years, or had never visited a dentist at all’. But despite these rather alarming findings, ‘loss of permanent teeth’ did not seem ‘to be a major oral health problem for most people below the age of 45 years.’ What was perhaps most remarkable about the 1988 report is that, after careful deliberations, it recommended a reduction of student intake in the Dental Faculty over the next decade from 60 to 20. Ian Davies must be the only Chair Professor and Dean of a Faculty in the living memory of this university to actually ask for a cut in his student numbers! But with students as with teeth, what matters is having the right number to do the job, and having good ones.

A second report in 1991, with 48 recommendations and a strong emphasis on public education, mapped out the oral health policy for Hong Kong. The two reports are very characteristic of Ian Davies. The research is solid, the arguments reasoned and well-grounded, and the rhetoric concise and to the point. Above all, the recommendations are neither self-interested nor protectionist. Like many of Ian Davies’ decisions, they show a sensitive awareness of the concerns of interested parties, and the need to consult and conciliate. But always, it is the demands of the general good that has first priority.

Ian Davies consistently demonstrated these qualities as he served the university as Pro Vice-Chancellor for ten years from 1991-2000; in the last two of these ten years, he assumed the additional responsibility of Registrar. He is also, as far as I know, the only person in the history of this university to have made the inspiring career ascent from Public Orator to Vice Chancellor. Needless to say, in both capacities he gave his successors a hard act to follow, and a great example.

It was in November 2000 that Ian Davies became Vice-Chancellor, a post he held till his retirement in June 2002. In this ultimate role as a leader, Ian Davies was the proverbial Mr Help from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress who would rally those mired in the Slough of Despond from their ‘many fears and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions.’ He would help them recover their spirits, and set them on their rightful paths once again. Many members of the university will remember Ian Davies for this help which was always graciously, sympathetically, and judiciously offered.

After his retirement, in recognition of his many contributions to dentistry and the dental profession in Hong Kong, he was made Honorary Fellow of the Hong Kong College of Dental Surgeons and the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine. His contribution to the local community was recognized by the award of the Silver Bauhinia Star by the Government of the HKSAR in 2003. He is currently Emeritus Professor and joins the university’s pantheon of leaders and benefactors through the Distinguished Lecture series which bears his name.

Mr Chancellor, Ian Davies has devoted his life to the health of the community, the profession, and the university, and he is held in the greatest respect and affection by all three. It is my honour and privilege, and it gives me the greatest pleasure to present William Ian Rees Davies for the award of the Degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.