Graham died on 20th June 2009, at the tragically early age of 55, having been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2001. His stoicism in the face of his deteriorating health, in his last months particularly, was truly remarkable. His last professional engagement was a joint lecture that he gave to 900 people in Solihull, just 3 weeks before his death, as part of the 'Talking Points' nationwide tour. This was a commitment that he was was determined to fulfill, against all the odds, and was typical of his dedication to his profession. It was of no surprise to his family, friends and colleagues that he kept working right up to the very end.
Graham qualified from UCH in 1975 and after house jobs and spells in community, NHS and private practice he joined the RAF in 1980. His clinical skills and sharp intellect were quickly identified and his 16 year military career included specialist training in periodontics and posts as Clinical Adviser in Periodontics, Director of the RAF School of Dental Hygiene, RAF Postgraduate Tutor and Adviser in General Dental Practice. His outstanding contribution to the RAF Dental Branch was recognized with the award of the Lean Memorial Award in 2004. On leaving the RAF in 1996 Graham concentrated on specialist periodontal practice but, having a gift and passion for teaching, he dedicated much of his time to postgraduate education for both dentists and hygienists, as well as working in the Oxford postgraduate deanery as Dental Tutor and Vice Dean. On top of all this he also managed to fit in spells of DCP examining, posts on editorial boards and for many years he was an Honorary Research Fellow at the Eastman. He was always active in the British Society of Periodontology and had the honour of serving as President of the Society in 2007/8.
Graham tackled everything with passion, whether it was dentistry, teaching, rugby or the church. He had an enormous impact on the dental profession, in so many different ways, and touched the lives of many. He was one of the most warm-hearted, generous and enthusiastic practitioners in his field and his skills as a communicator and teacher were reflected in the enormous number of messages of condolence that were received when news of his death became known. The word 'inspiration' was used repeatedly, as was the description of 'gentleman'. He was a true gentleman and indeed a gentle man. His legacy will be the dentists and hygienists up and down the country who benefitted from his inspirational teaching, as well as the patients whose dental care improved as a result. Everyone who encountered him will remember him with enormous affection and he will be sorely missed, especially by his family, to whom he was completely devoted.
Bernie was one of the most charismatic and colourful figures in British periodontology. His impact on the science and practice of periodontics through his research, teaching and championing of patients' rights, was immense, both nationally and internationally. As with many visionaries whose value is often not appreciated until after they have gone, his contribution to periodontology is only now starting to be recognised.
Many clinicians encountered Bernie on the postgraduate lecturing circuit. He shaped and influenced countless numbers of GDPs and hygienists in their approach to periodontics in this way. Some of us even devoted our careers to periodontology as a direct result of hearing Bernie speak. He 'demythed' much of what we had been taught as undergraduates and made perio so undeniably interesting and relevant to everyday dentistry. Since his death many have remarked that, even if they only heard him speak once, maybe years before, they remembered his message and took it back to their practices. He was a superlative communicator and the anecdotes that he used in his teaching became legendary; who can forget dental plaque described as thugs in a football stadium? Or his lack of hair as a model for bone loss?
Inspirational teachers can change the course of people's lives; Bernie was one such teacher. His students were rewarded with an unequalled learning opportunity which shaped their professional careers. He taught us how to think with clarity, how to question received wisdom and generally to go out into the world and make nuisances of ourselves. We engaged in ferocious debates about the scientific literature and he'd watch us dig holes for ourselves as we tried, and failed, to argue with his compelling logic. Contrary to what some would say he didn't have an ounce of arrogance in him and didn't pretend to know all the answers; as students we warmed to his humility and wicked sense of fun and uniquely among the teaching staff he quickly became a father figure to us.
He strove for the truth with alarming determination and with a political incorrectness which most found so refreshing. His honesty, straight talking, common-sense approach and ability to appreciate the bigger picture did not endear him to all his professional colleagues, especially those who became targets for his uncompromising and razor-sharp logic. And woe-betide any lecturer who didn't know the literature he was quoting when Bernie was in the audience. As one BSP member put it: "I doubt that BSP gatherings will be the same without him."
As a clinician Bernie was without equal. Many of his patients stayed with him for decades and as a result many became friends. After his terminal cancer was diagnosed he wrote personally to all his longstanding patients to explain his situation, concerned that he was letting them down in giving up his practice so suddenly. As one patient put it so well: "That you should be so concerned on my account when you are experiencing such an enormous challenge yourself speaks volumes about you as a person, and as a professional." Bernie was renowned for his views on the patient's role in the control of disease and he brilliantly negotiated that fine line between encouragement and chastisement. As another patient wrote to him: "I always left your practice with a spring in my step, even when you had told me off!"
As a scientist, and together with colleagues abroad like the late Sture Nyman, he conducted seminal work over 20 years ago that is cited to this day. His textbook, or The Comic, as Bernie referred to it, was published in 1991 (sadly now out of print) and was a labour of love for which he made enormous sacrifices, costing him dearly in blood, sweat, tears and expense. It represents the extent of his dedication to his profession as teacher, clinician and scientist and is a fitting testimonial to a long, productive and controversial career.
Bernie was irascible, irreverent and utterly irreplaceable. He put his head above the parapet when most would shelter behind it. His guidance and friendship deeply enriched the lives of so many in his profession. It seems trite to say that he will be sorely missed but he has left a void that cannot be filled. Many of us believe that Bernie changed the face of periodontology in this country and overseas and perhaps in years to come this will be properly recognised.