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Morton Amsterdam, 1921-2014
Morton Amsterdam passed away in his sleep on June 27, 2014, at the age of 92. Dentistry lost a legend, and the two of us lost a wonderful colleague and cherished friend.
Our relationship with him spanned well over 100 years combined. Dr. Cohen first met Morton in 1951, thus beginning a collaboration that was quite unique in the profession. Dr. Weisgold began as a graduate student in 1963 and eventually became his partner in private practice.
It almost seems as if the great Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, knew Morton personally when he wrote, “the reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in changing the world.” How fortunate for his beloved profession that Morton Amsterdam was an unreasonable man! He was a passionate and compassionate dentist extraordinaire, seemingly cast from a bygone era. In many respects he was ahead of his time. He saw beyond the obvious.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Morton studied at the University of Pennsylvania in its 7-year BA-DDS program. After serving in the US Navy he took an externship and then opened his practice in Philadelphia. In 1948 (at age 29) he was asked by Dean Gerald Timmons of Temple University School of Dentistry to Chair the newly established Department of Endodontics. This was the first graduate program in this field. Men such as Leonard Parris (former Chair of the Department of Endodontics at Temple), Herbert Schilder (former Chair of the Department of Endodontics at Boston University), and Robert Uchin (former Dean at Nova Southeastern University) were some of Morton’s early students who eventually played leadership roles in their specialties. At Penn, he directed the postdoctoral programs in Periodontics and Periodontal Prosthesis until 1973. Rightly so, he was considered the “Father of Periodontal Prosthesis.”
Dr. Amsterdam received numerous honors during his career. The first endowed chair in Periodontal Prosthesis, The Morton Amsterdam Professorship, was established at the Hebrew University School of Dental Medicine in Jerusalem in 1971. He received honorary doctorates from Dickinson College, University of Gothenberg, and University of Athens. The first endowed Deanship in dentistry was established at the University of Pennsylvania in Dr. Amsterdam’s honor by Ambassador Walter Annenberg. The American Academy of Periodontology, the Greater New York Academy of Prosthodontics, and the American Academy of Esthetic Dentistry recognized him with their most prestigious awards.
Of all his honors and accolades, he was most proud of the accomplishments of his many former students. Numbered amongst them were Deans (including Charles Jerge, David Beaudreau, Harry Bohannon, Peter Robinson, Ian Davies, and Michael Fritz), Associate Deans, Department Chairpersons, Postdoctoral Directors, Hospital Dental Service Directions, and a host of teachers scattered throughout the four corners of the earth. Rarely is there a scientific program anywhere in the world where one of Dr. Amsterdam’s former students is not participating.
Morton’s influence transcended periodontics and periodontal prosthesis as he taught countless young people in orthodontics and endodontics. What an honor and delight it was as a graduate student to visit him at his home, sit as his feet, and drink in his words. He served as a moral compass to his students, and, by example, instilled in them that it is not about “getting,” it’s about giving back. In retirement and even in his last years, former students continued to visit him seeking his counsel about dentistry or just life in general. He had an amazing capacity to make one feel that he or she was the only person in the room at the time.
In saying goodbye, we can take solace in the fact that this special individual graced us with his presence for so many years. In the final analysis of Morton Amsterdam’s contributions, the dental world will divide into two groups: those who recognize his genius and those who eventually will. We are proud to say that we belong to the first group!
About the Author
D. Walter Cohen, DDS
Editor Emeritus Compendium
Arnold S. Weisgold, DDS
Department of Periodontics
University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine
Editorial Advisory Board Compendium