Clifton O. Dummett, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC, died on Sept. 7. He was 92.
Born in Georgetown, British Guyana on May 20, 1919, Dummett studied at Howard and Roosevelt universities before earning his DDS from Northwestern University in 1941. He went on to earn master’s degrees in periodontics and public health from Northwestern and the University of Michigan, respectively.
In 1947, Dummett was named dean of the School of Dentistry at Meharry Medical College, where he was the youngest dean in the United States at 28. He later worked with the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Tuskegee, Ala. In 1955, he enlisted in the Air Force, where he served for 24 years, earned the rank of lieutenant colonel and was awarded the Certificate of Merit. He arrived at USC in 1966.
An advocate for social justice and equality for all people, it was Dummett’s resolution in the American Dental Association House of Delegates that led to the lifting of restrictive membership within the organization. He also served the National Dental Association for 22 years as editor in chief and wrote a book that recounted the history of the organization.
At the Ostrow School, Dummett taught dental history and led the community dentistry department. An internationally acclaimed author and researcher, he wrote hundreds of articles on dental history, public health issues, and social and community issues, among other topics.
His perspective on the importance of dentists’ ability to be sensitive to the needs of all people at first was controversial, but it gradually was embraced by dental institutions across the country – with USC emerging as a leader in the field of community dentistry.
Among the many academic honors Dummett received over the years were honorary doctorates from Northwestern and the University of Pennsylvania in 1976 and 1978, respectively, induction into the Institute of Medicine in 1972, induction into the Ostrow School Hall of Fame in 1997 and being named Distinguished Professor Emeritus by USC that same year.
“The Ostrow School of Dentistry, and the profession of dentistry as a whole, has lost one of its guiding lights,” said Avishai Sadan, dean of the Ostrow School. “He was a consummate teacher, respected leader and true humanitarian. His legacy and his philosophies have made a tremendous, lasting impact on our school.”