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The Orthodontic Foundation Honors Dr. Magness with Endowed Professorship

Thursday, June 12, 2014 - 3:40pm

 From left are Dr. Jeryl English, Dean John A. Valenza, DDS; Dr. Magness and Dr. Sam Winkelmann.

At The Orthodontic Foundation's surprise presentation honoring Dr. W. Bonham Magness (from left) are Dr. Jeryl English, Dean John A. Valenza, DDS; Dr. Magness and Dr. Sam Winkelmann. Photo by Brian Schnupp.

How do you pay homage to a professor who has taught every orthodontic resident at The University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston since 1960? By creating an endowment in his name that will help other professors and residents.

The Orthodontic Foundation has donated $100,000 to the School of Dentistry to create the W. Bonham Magness Endowed Professorship in Orthodontics.

W. Bonham Magness earned his DDS from UTSD in 1956. Following graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, but thoughts of an orthodontic residency were never far away. He wrote frequent letters from Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio to the Orthodontic Department founder and chair A.P. Westfall, DDS. 

“I didn’t want Dr. Westfall to forget me,” Magness recalled. “After a few weeks, he wrote back and said, ‘Rest assured you have not been forgotten.’ “

His two-year Air Force stint over, Magness returned to his hometown of Houston in 1958 to begin the next phase of his studies in the graduate orthodontic program. The enthusiastic letters must have impressed Westfall, because the chairman asked Magness to begin teaching immediately upon graduating in 1960. And thus began a 54-year teaching career that has touched the lives of every UTSD orthodontic resident since.

“He just shook his head – ‘No’.”

But Magness recalled that just a few simple turns of fate could have changed everything. If not for a kindly professor at the University of Houston who squeezed him into a summer class to earn his last two essential credits to gain entrance into dental school, Magness ponders whether he’d be a dentist at all.

“I was broke,” he said. “My dad died right after I graduated from high school, so I probably would’ve ended up working in my uncle’s hardware store.”

And if not for Westfall’s insight and wisdom, Magness might have had a much shorter teaching tenure.

“After the two years of teaching I had promised to Dr. Westfall, my practice was doing well and I’d just gotten married, so I went to him and said, ‘I need to talk to you,’ ” Magness recalled. “He was writing at his desk and for the longest time, he never looked up. Finally, he looked at me, grinned, and just shook his head — ‘No.’ ”

His mentor had guessed the young orthodontist wanted to resign from teaching, but refused to even entertain the notion. “And that was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Magness said, “for I have enjoyed every minute of the teaching experience.”

Teaching by example

While the past 54 years of teaching have been a great joy for Magness, he admits to being more than a bit nervous when he started out.

“At first, I was teaching people who were in school with me the year before and I thought,  ‘These guys know as much as me.’ Over a period of years, however, I realized that the residents really needed my information, and I felt very comfortable teaching.”

Magness said showing the practical application of orthodontics has been a cornerstone of his teaching methods, and while he’s switched from carousel slides to PowerPoint, he still relies heavily on case studies in the classroom today. In addition to teaching, he has maintained a private practice which now includes his son, fellow UTSD alumnus Marc Bonham Magness, DDS, ’95 MS, ’98. 

The current chair of the UTSD Department of Orthodontics, Jeryl D. English, DDS, MS, pointed to another technique Magness uses that English considers a standout:  the “VTO” (Visual Treatment Objective). Records taken of a patient before treatment, especially lateral cephalograms, are used to predict what tooth positions will best create a well-balanced face with stable tooth positions following treatment. “It’s incredibly effective,” English said.

Describing Magness as a “phenomenal man and role model for the graduate students he’s taught,” English also credits Magness with being a persuasive recruiter, especially when teamed up with orthodontists Fred Garrett, DDS, MSD, and Sam Winkelmann, DDS, MS. The three were instrumental in bringing English to UTSD in 2001.

“They pursued with a certain vigor, you might say,” English recalled of the trio’s recruitment campaign. The extra effort to bring him to UTSD was warranted, however, as English wasn’t looking to make a move from Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas. “I’m thankful they were so persistent or I might not have wound up here,” he added.

Surprise party

Guests line up to sign a keepsake for Dr. W. Bonham Magness at a surprise reception in his honor earlier this year. Photo by Brian Schnupp.

Guests line up to sign a keepsake for Dr. W. Bonham Magness at a surprise reception in his honor earlier this year. Photo by Brian Schnupp.

When the idea of establishing an endowed professorship to honor Magness came up, English knew fundraising would be the easy part; he was concerned that asking some 300 alumni to keep it a secret from their beloved professor might be too much to ask.

“People were delighted to give to this fund when they found out Dr. Magness’ name was attached,” English said. “I was worried someone would let it slip and say something to him, but when the endowment was presented, I think he was truly surprised.”

It helped to have Magness’ wife of 53 years, Marcille, in on the planning to run interference and keep her husband blissfully ignorant of the behind-the-scenes work being done in his honor.

“I can’t believe she was able to keep it a secret from me,” Magness said with a laugh.

“There’s one overused word to describe my reaction: awesome,” he said of the professorship. “I cannot believe these residents and everyone collected money for this endowment in my name. It’s a wonderful honor.”

English said the endowment funds will enable the graduate program director to offset professional organization memberships, travel to conferences, perform research and assist with student projects.

Wendy Mohon is a freelance writer based in Dallas. A graduate of the University of Houston, she has extensive experience writing about health-care topics. Contact her at wendykm@gmail.com.