Professor Dorothy A M Geddes, OBE; born May 8, 1936, died March 14, 1998

DOROTHY Geddes, Professor of Oral Biology at Glasgow University from 1990 until her retirement in 1995, was the first woman to be appointed to a professorship of dentistry in the United Kingdom. She was the first woman to be elected dean of a dental faculty at any of the royal colleges in the UK. For many years she was an important influence on her profession, both through her research and her contributions to dental education.

Born in Alloa, she was educated at Brechin High School, where her father, James Geddes, was rector. She decided on a career in dentistry because of its combination of scientific and artistic skills. She faced some practical problems, being left-handed and dyslexic, but overcame them and graduated from Edinburgh University in 1959.

After deciding to specialise in oral surgery, she did her initial hospital training in Edinburgh and in 1963 became the first woman to be awarded a fellowship in dental surgery by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. She then went to Birmingham as a senior registrar but, because of the dearth of consultant posts on the horizon, decided, undeterred, to change course and widen her work experience in the United States.

At the Eastman Dental Center in Rochester, New York, she carried out research into dental caries and, on her return to this country, worked with Professor Neil Jenkins and his Oral Research Group at Newcastle University, where she was employed by the Medical Research Council for six years. In 1975 she was appointed lecturer at the University of Glasgow Dental Hospital and School, later becoming senior lecturer and honorary consultant in periodontology and preventive dentistry.

Recently she wrote: ''No-one nowadays should have such a long run-up to a consultancy as I did, but I do not consider these years wasted. I enjoyed the varied experiences and benefited from them personally and professionally.''

Many others benefited from her wide experience and broad educational perspectives. These helped her to bring together research in dental disease and salivary function. They also helped her to innovate in dental education where, with her broad interests in the environment, philosophy, and behaviour in health and disease, she became a prime mover in ensuring that these subjects became an integral part of the dental curriculum, locally and nationally. She also became a leading figure in developing postgraduate dental education in the UK.

Her academic achievements were matched by personal qualities which made her a valued friend and counsellor to many - patients, students, colleagues. She could always be relied upon to give a cool, reasoned view and she would promote a constructive outcome in discussion. When Dorothy held up her pen, in a characteristic gesture, one could be confident that a wise contribution was about to be made. She was a force for good within her profession.

These qualities led to national and international appointments. She was at various times president of the Royal Odonto-Chirurgical Society of Scotland, the West of Scotland branch of the British Dental Association, Women in Dentistry, and the European Organisation for Caries Research (ORCA). She also chaired the BDA's central committee representing dental teachers and research workers.

She was Dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh from 1992 to 1995, and subsequently its representative on the General Dental Council. She was an excellent ambassador for her profession, for women in dentistry, and for all those institutions she represented in her professional life. She was awarded an OBE in 1996 and in the same year received an Honorary Fellowship from the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

Only days later, cancer struck - and with cruel timing. Having taken early retirement in 1995, she was starting to spend more time on outside interests - which included opera, paintings, glass, local history, current affairs, and cats (she had four). A dedicated gardener, she liked nothing better than to toil among compost bins or pots of geraniums at her home in Cove, with its superb views over Loch Long. She had friends all over the world.

A gentle person of true humility, she was interested in everything and everybody around her and, with her fine sense of humour, was always fun to be with. Throughout her life she met adversity - notably the early loss of her much-loved younger brother - with an indomitable spirit and during her last illness she showed courage, grace, and quiet humour. In November, though illness was again closing in on her, she characteristically insisted on fulfilling a commitment to join a General Dental Council visitation to Malaysia.

A few weeks before her death Dorothy Geddes learned with genuine surprise that she had won a major European award, the ORCA-Rolex prize for her research in dental caries and her leadership in postgraduate dental education. The citation stated that she had ''inspired a younger generation to follow a career in dental research'' - a fitting epitaph to a distinguished career.