Thursday, September 28, 2023

Bob Williams, who received his DDS from the University of Iowa College of Dentistry in 1973 and then left Iowa immediately for Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State to provide dental care to soldiers in the Vietnam War, is named Alumnus of the Year 2023, an honor he says he is humbled to receive.

“I’m surprised to receive this award because there are many who are deserving,” he says. “I am a big believer in the University of Iowa College of Dentistry, and I’m proud to be part of its long-standing tradition of excellence in dental education, care, and research.”

Bob has practiced dentistry for 50 years in the South Puget Sound/Tacoma region. During his career, he has volunteered with and supported local and global dental initiatives, including working in public dental clinics and traveling to third-world countries to care for people with oral diseases. He served as President of the Peirce County Dental Society and attended the L.D. Pankey Institute and Frank Spears Study Club.

Bob decided he wanted to be a dentist when he was a boy growing up in Newton, IA. He studied Chemistry at the University of Iowa, graduating with a BS in 1969. When he applied to the College of Dentistry, Dr. Richard Rabedeaux (’55 DDS), his hometown dentist, whom he had known most of his life, wrote a letter of recommendation for him.

During his time at the college, Bob studied operative dentistry with Dr. Gerald Denehy (’70 MS), and Dr. James Fuller (’62 DDS, ’72 MS), and participated in academic research led by Dr. Kai Chan (’67 DDS, ’64 MS), and Dr. Carl Svare. He graduated in 1973 and was immediately drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. He was assigned to Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and was a member of the 9th Medical Division.

Fortunately, the war ended, and Bob never went to Vietnam, but his three years in the Army taught him much about perseverance. When his division was sent to Fairbanks, Alaska, to protect the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, he performed urgent dental surgeries in medical clinics that never warmed due to frigid outside temperatures of -50°F.

Bob met his wife, Jerilee (Jeri), at Madigan Army Medical Center, and after his discharge, they decided to put down roots in the Pacific Northwest. Over the years, they have enjoyed many outdoor activities together, including hiking, camping, and golf. They have also participated in six humanitarian trips to provide dental services to people in China, Bolivia, Nepal, and other countries. Their next humanitarian trip is to Kenya with the Hardwick Foundation. 

Bob and Jeri also volunteer with and financially support Guide Dogs for the Blind, a national organization that matches trained guide dogs with blind or visually impaired people.

The couple returns to Iowa at least once a year to visit family and friends, including many from the college. They are generous college supporters and, over the years, have made several financial gifts. In 2003, they endowed the Dr. Bob H. and Jerilee H. Williams Professorship in Restorative Dentistry Fund, and in 2014, they contributed to the College of Dentistry Building Fund. In 2020, they supported the James L. Fuller and Gerald E. Denehy Operative Dentistry Professorship Fund and, more recently, provided funding to support the Operative Dentistry Advanced Education Program.

Bob says he feels fortunate to have been given the opportunity to study at the University of Iowa and the University of Iowa College of Dentistry, and he is grateful that he and Jeri can support the institutions that have given them so much. Says Bob: “It is all about giving back.”

And so it is with great pleasure that the University of Iowa Dental Alumni Association and the College of Dentistry recognize Bob Williams as the 2023 Alumnus of the Year.