Oral pathologist and teacher;
Born: December 24, 1939; Died: August 17, 2013.
Professor William H Binnie, who has died aged 73, was a distinguished oral pathologist, teacher, academic and clinician. He was an internationally acclaimed authority in oral pathology who combined diagnostic and research skills with being an inspirational teacher of dental students and a mentor for colleagues.
He was raised in Bellshill, and in his youth played football for Motherwell. After receiving his BDS degree from Glasgow University's Dental School in 1963, he interned as house surgeon at Glasgow Dental Hospital and in Newfoundland, Canada. While in Canada, he recognised at an early stage that he preferred the art of histopathology to clinical settings, and this gave him the motivation and determination to further his academic career in histopathology, research and teaching. During the icy but enjoyable internship in Newfoundland, he discovered the skeleton of a narwhale while walking along the beach and salvaged the immense ivory tusk, which remains to this day a Binnie family treasure.
After obtaining a doctor of dental surgery degree from McGill University in Montreal in 1965, Prof Binnie subsequently obtained his speciality training in oral medicine and oral pathology at Indiana University School of Dentistry in Indianapolis. He obtained many thousands of dollars in grant funding during his tenured career, and his areas of interest in his extensive research career included salivary gland neoplasia and epidemiology with particular regard to causative factors.
His full-time academic work since 1967 has included teaching dental students, dental hygiene students and students in various graduate dental and medical speciality programmes. In various posts, he was responsible for course direction, the production of guidelines, course objectives and student and course evaluation.
He served as both lecturer and senior lecturer at Guy's Hospital in London from 1967 to 1979 and acting chair during 1977 to 1978. He and his boss at Guy's, Professor Rod Cawson, co-authored many of the definitive books for oral pathology, including the Lucas Pathology of Tumours and Mosby Oral Disease.
One of Prof Binnie's favourite appointments was visiting lecturer to the University of Nairobi, Kenya, under the auspices of the World Health Organisation. The time he spent in the unspoiled countryside with its beautiful beaches and plentiful wildlife was one of the delights of his life, and he rued not being able to return to the area safely in subsequent years. .
In 1979, Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas, Texas, recruited him from Guy's and he moved to Texas to assume the chairmanship of the department of oral pathology. There, he oversaw the pathology work after the exhumation of Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged assassin of President John F Kennedy. Prof Binnie was assured it would be a quiet affair, only to arrive at the hospital to discover hovering helicopters, spotlights, newscasters and a phalanx of lawyers all insisting to be included inside the room when the coffin was opened. As soon as the lid lifted, one lawyer fainted flat on the floor, with several others quickly "offering to help" him depart the room.
In 1982, he added chair of pathology to his appointments, and he directed both general as well as oral pathology. He was then promoted to chair of diagnostic sciences and was instrumental in conceiving, funding and establishing the college's stomatology centre, which today is the premier referral centre in North Texas and the Southwest United States for the referral and management of patients with oral mucosal diseases.
He also spearheaded and saw to completion the establishment of Baylor College of Dentistry's first Head and Neck Imaging Centre which provides state of the art imaging for patients and for referrals from the practising community. He recognised the importance of this clinic to the college as well as practising dentists.
His reorganisation of BCOD's biopsy service in 1980 saw this service grow into one of the largest in the United States, with the professor and partners analysing an average of 6300 biopsy specimens per year. Particularly complex, rare or unusual cases were directed to him from all around the world.
During his career, he wrote more than 50 scientific papers and authored or co-authored eight books, and he was widely respected in the worldwide academic community of oral pathology. As a founding member of the International Association of Oral Pathologists, he was invited to lecture worldwide for over 30 years. He served in a variety of roles in the International Association of Oral Pathologists and was elected and served with distinction as the IAOP President from 1994-96.
From 2003 until his retirement in 2006, he served as the vice president for academic affairs for the Texas A&M University System Health Science Centre. He was awarded the prestigious Regents Professorship by the Texas A&M University Board of Regents for distinguishing himself, his university and the state of Texas at state, national and international levels. Upon his academic retirement in 2006, he was awarded Emeritus Regents Professor status, of which he was justifiably proud.
After retiring to St Andrews in 2006, he enjoyed his passion for single malt whisky collecting and all things golf; he maintained a lifelong single-digit handicap and was a member of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, favouring the local links courses. He and his wife, Cheryl, converted a listed coach house in Fife into a five-star luxury B&B. He was renowned for his wit and ability to spin a tale or joke, and his easy manner with both friends and strangers.
He was appointed a part-time honorary professor at the Postgraduate Dental Institute at the University of Edinburgh where his clinical and teaching skills were much in demand. Inducted into the prestigious Baylor College of Dentistry Hall of Fame in January 2012, he was awarded this honour for the impact his career and love of education had on the college and its students. Throughout his lifetime, he had a special gift for teaching, supporting and encouraging younger students, and, in Texas especially, his elegant dress (always in a suit and tie), easy manner and his beautiful Scottish accent were a great draw.
He travelled the world as an ambassador for dentistry and oral pathology. His academic contributions leave a legacy that has profoundly improved the lives of his students and ultimately their patients, the practising dental community, and his colleges.
He is survived by Cheryl, and by four children Ross, Vivienne, William, Alexander.
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