In Memoriam — Robert V. Walker: Oral and maxillofacial surgeon

Dr. Robert V. Walker, world-renowned clinician and educator and 26-year chairman of oral and maxillofacial surgery, died April 28 of pancreatic cancer. He was 86.

Dr. Walker, fondly referred to as “RV,” dedicated his long career to the discipline of oral and maxillofacial surgery and the promotion of the specialty through research, education, administration and service to patients.

Dr. Walker was born in Waco in 1924. After graduating from high school in Chilton he enrolled in Texas A&M University in 1941, but World War II interrupted his pre-dental education. He was inducted into the military in 1942, went through basic training and was sent back to Texas A&M until the army assigned him to Baylor College of Dentistry in 1944. He graduated from dental school in 1947, the same year he married Emily Berger.

Dr. Robert V. Walker

After being called to serve in the military once more in the Korean War, he completed an oral surgery residency in 1956 at Parkland Memorial Hospital. He joined the UT Southwestern faculty that same year, and two years later was named as professor of surgery and chairman of oral and maxillofacial surgery, a position he held until 1984. He remained on the full-time faculty until 1997, when he was named professor emeritus.

“RV is the reason the educational arm of the Division of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at UT Southwestern has reached such prominence in Texas and throughout the world,” said Dr. John Zuniga, current chief of the division. “There are 217 proud alumni of the program, of whom 29 have been or are deans, chairs or program directors in the United States and beyond. Many of our graduates refer to him as the reason for their success, and RV knew each and every one of them by name — where they lived, who they were married to, and what their children were doing. That was the kind of man he was. His contributions to our program and to the field of oral and maxillofacial surgery are immeasurable, and he will be greatly missed.”

While shaping a solid curriculum during his early years as chairman, he also worked diligently at the national level. He helped establish essentials for the education and training of oral surgeons across the country and helped create an accreditation system through the Council on Dental Education of the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (ABOMS), and the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS).

His early work with these associations eventually led to the creation of a seat for the ADA on the Board of Commissioners of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals. He worked on the committee that helped launch the First International Conference on Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, which was held at the Royal College of Surgeons in London in 1962. This led to the formation of the International Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, of which Dr. Walker was a founding fellow. He served as president of that organization for many years. He also served as president of the American Trauma Society, the AAOMS, the ABOMS, the Texas Division of the American Cancer Society, and the Southwest Society of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. He was chairman of the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Foundation, which established the Robert V. Walker Society in his honor in 1997.

“RV’s clinical expertise, administrative skills, and ability to synthesize and construct plans and bring people to the table were rare skills that defined success to many organizations inside and outside of dentistry and medicine,” said Dr. Zuniga, who holds the Robert V. Walker, D.D.S., Chair in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, which was established in 1988 by Dr. Walker’s colleagues and friends.

Dr. Walker has received nearly three dozen awards and honors from his peers in dentistry and oral surgery worldwide. Most notably, he was made a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland in 1973 and a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1984, where he gave the prestigious Charles Tomes Lecture. The 1987 annual meeting of the AAOMS was dedicated to him.

Despite his many honors and accolades, Dr. Walker always said his greatest accomplishment was building the division of oral and maxillofacial surgery at UT Southwestern and Parkland.

“Bob Walker was a giant in the field of maxillofacial surgery,” said Dr. Kern Wildenthal, president of Southwestern Medical Foundation. “A superb clinician and teacher, he formed the oral surgery division of UT Southwestern and Parkland Hospital, and built it into one of the most highly regarded programs in the world with an unsurpassed record of training future leaders in the field. Of equal importance to his campus colleagues, he was an outstanding citizen — always courteous and helpful, a compassionate care-giver for all his patients, an inspiring role model and a loyal friend.”

April 21-30, 2011 /