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John C. Greene, DMD, MPH: 1926-2016

October 19, 2016

John C. Greene, dean emeritus, UCSF School of Dentistry
Dr. John C. Greene, dean emeritus of the UCSF School of Dentistry, is pictured in 1985. Photo courtesy of UCSF Archives


John C. Greene, DMD, MPH, dean emeritus of the UCSF School of Dentistry, died Oct. 13 at age 90.

Dr. Greene served as dean from 1981 to 1995. Prior to his appointment, Dr. Greene was deputy surgeon general and chief dental officer of the United States Public Health Service. He also had held teaching appointments in the schools of dentistry at UCSF and the University of Pennsylvania, and at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

“Dr. Greene lived a life filled with extraordinary achievements,” said John D.B. Featherstone, MSc., PhD, current dean of the School of Dentistry. “He will be greatly missed.”

Dr. Greene was a prolific researcher in the fields of oral epidemiology, oral hygiene and periodontal disease, and on issues surrounding public dental health services. His leadership was instrumental in the dental school's rise to prominence as a premier research institution. UCSF’s student-run dental research organization, the John C. Greene Society, proudly bears Dr. Greene’s name.

One focus of his research was smokeless tobacco. Andy Evangelista, a freelance writer who worked with UCSF University Relations during the 1980s, recalled how Dr. Greene worked with Major League Baseball to educate players on the dangers of smokeless tobacco.

“He was part of a UCSF group — oral health experts, behavior specialists, epidemiologists — that worked with the San Francisco Giants in 1987,” Evangelista said. While at spring training, “here [Dr. Greene] was with a baseball cap, mixing it up with Willie Mays and Willie McCovey, who came to spring training as advisers, and some of the ‘younger’ players like Mike Krukow and Will Clark.”

Steven Silverstein, DMD, MPH, professor emeritus in the School of Dentistry, had equally fond — and light-hearted — memories of Dr. Greene. They occasionally shared a ride home to Marin County, “and he would talk about his early years as a dental student.  When he graduated, he joined the U.S. Public Health Service as a dentist.  After about a year he received a call from his commanding officer: ‘Greene, you are going to be an epidemiologist!’”

“Yes, sir,’ Dean Greene answered, and added, ‘What is an epidemiologist?’ Dean Greene, of course, went on to have a long career as one of the foremost dental epidemiologists,” Dr. Silverstein recounted.

Drs. John and Deborah Greenspan, both emeriti faculty, remember Dr. Greene as "an ever-gracious dean and colleague whose unobtrusively determined leadership facilitated the School, and ultimately dentistry worldwide, in their science- and compassion-based response to the AIDS pandemic. We worked with him when he led as president of the American Association for Dental Research and the American Association of Dental Schools, as well as the International Association for Dental Research. He remains widely revered in all three spheres. "

A native of Ashland, Kentucky, Dr. Greene served as an electronics technician with the U.S. Navy during World War II. He received his DMD from the University of Louisville in 1952, and his MPH from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health in 1961.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Friday, Oct. 21, at Fernwood Cemetery, 301 Tennessee Valley Road, Mill Valley. Hillside burial is noon-1 p.m.; a reception on site follows at 1:30-2:30 p.m.

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