Vale Dr Fred Talbot Widdop AM (1932-2021)

19 May 2021

Dr Fred Widdop AM (MDSc, BDSc, BSc Melb, LDS, FRACDS, FICD, FADI, FPFA) had a storied career. A polymath, who was an accomplished sportsman, arts lover, especially the theatre and literature, clinician, scientist and orator. In his early days he toyed with directing theatre as a career, and he did a part time BSc in mathematics and physiology at the University of Melbourne. It was the community’s gain that Fred devoted his talents to public dental health.

Australia thanked him for his “service to dentistry and to the improvement of public dental health as an administrator, researcher and educator”, by awarding him Member of the Order of Australia in 2002.  Previously, he had been awarded Honorary Life Membership of both the ADA Victorian Branch (1992) and ADA Inc (1995) in recognition of his conspicuous and continuous service to dentistry.  That outstanding service was further recognised by award of Fellowships with the Academy of Dentistry International (1988), the International College of Dentistry (1988), and the Pierre Fauchard Academy (1991).

Dr Widdop was one of the most distinguished members of any profession, given his outstanding service, both within the Association structures and beyond.  His expertise and judgment were acknowledged by his engagement as a consultant for the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Health Insurance Commission.  His service as an expert on advisory panels for the National Health and Medical Research Council and the International Dental Federation was acknowledged internationally, and he served with distinction on numerous other Committees and Boards.  Most notably, he was Chairman of the Australian Dental Research Foundation, and a director of the public sector agency in Victoria, Dental Health Services Victoria (1995-2004).

Dr Widdop had an excellent reputation as a general dentist in private practice.  He was a pioneer in the use of tooth bonding techniques, which preserved tooth structure and reduced the need for more complex and expensive restorative techniques.   He was also pre-eminent in the development of gerodontics, and in 1991 was editor of the first book of its kind in Australia focussing on the impact of an ageing population on dental services.  His expertise in these areas was acknowledged by invitations to lecture nationally and internationally, and was entirely consistent with his ADA work, which had a strong emphasis on dentistry for the disadvantaged.  In 1996 he initiated and edited A Focus on Issues for Young Dentists, which was also the first resource of its kind. 

Dr Fred Widdop graduated Bachelor of Dental Science University of Melbourne in 1954, Bachelor of Science 1968 and Master of Dental Science in 1970 also from the University of Melbourne. He was an inaugural Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons (1969). 

He was elected to the Victorian Branch Council of the ADA In 1975 then served on Executive Committee from 1979 to 1990, which included being Branch President (1983-1984) and Honorary Secretary for five years. He served as Chairman of many Standing Committees, and he was a primary author of the current Branch Constitution and many other documents supporting Branch activities in both the professional and political arenas.  

In 1985 he was elected a Federal Councillor and he progressed through the Federal Executive to be the President of the Australian Dental Association Incorporated from 1992-1994.  

As his political and practising career ended, he commenced a new career, serving as an ADAVB Community Relations Officer for two days per week from 1996-2015, assisting members of the public and of the Association in resolving disputes.  His empathetic and professional manner ensured that both patients and dentists felt heard and respected, whatever the outcome of the ‘dispute’.

Academic appointments at the University of Melbourne Dental School included lecturing and demonstrating from 1970-1992. He served on the Board of Clinical Dental Studies from 1982-1986, and from 1984 to 1991 he was an Examiner for the RACDS.

Australian Dental Association Congresses in 1976, 1978, 1982, 1985 and 1988 included Fred Widdop on the Scientific Programme. He presented major lectures at the FDI World Congress in Washington DC in 1988 and at the prestigious Hinman Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia in 1991. ADA Branches in South Australia, Northern Territory and New South Wales all welcomed Dr Widdop as a Federal Interstate Guest Lecturer.

As ADA Inc. President, Dr Fred Widdop initiated a successful media campaign, advocated for the extension of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, supported the introduction of the national Dental Health Week and the ADA Service Medallion, and the establishment of the highest standards of infection control. He was one of the prime movers in the creation of the Australian Dental Council in 1993. He provided the impetus for significant changes in the presentation of the Australian Dental Journal and improvements to the ADA's building and facilities. He also presided over the transition from the retiring Executive Director to his successor. His leadership of the ADA internationally at the FDI World Dental Federation and regionally at the Asia Pacific Dental Federation, enhanced the reputation of the Australian Dental Association.

While he was formally recognised in many roles, his kindness and compassion were also acknowledged and appreciated by his many colleagues and students, who valued his sage counsel and mentorship.

Dr Widdop was and is an exemplar of a health professional through his years of dedicated community service, and his commitment to the enhancement of public dental health.

John Matthews AM
Neil Hewson
Garry Pearson OAM