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Adamson, Sir Kenneth Thomas (1904–1976)

by H. F. Atkinson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Sir Kenneth Thomas Adamson (1904-1976), orthodontist and academic, was born on 19 June 1904 at Prahran, Melbourne, son of Thomas Cartwright Adamson, dentist, and his wife Gertrude Jane, née Thompson, both Victorian born. Educated at Wesley College and the University of Melbourne (B.D.Sc., 1927), he was appointed a house surgeon at the (Royal) Dental Hospital of Melbourne where he engaged in research which led to a D.D.Sc. in 1929. He was to become lecturer, senior lecturer and head of the department of orthodontics in the Australian College of Dentistry, while continuing as honorary consultant in orthodontics to the Dental Hospital. On 4 February 1932 at the Presbyterian Church, Toorak, he married Jean Isobel King Scott.

Joining the faculty of dental science at the university as a senior lecturer in 1935, Adamson held a commission as honorary captain in the Reserve of Officers, Australian Military Forces, during World War II. He was a member of the council of the Australian College of Dentistry (until 1963) and of the council of the Dental Hospital (from 1947). President (1935), honorary secretary (1944) and permanent vice-president (from 1962) of the Victorian branch of the Australian Dental Association, he was federal president in 1954-60 and made a life member in 1970. He was president (1954-57) of the Australian Society of Orthodontists and a founding member of the (Royal) Australian College of Dental Surgeons (president 1968-70). His professional honours included life membership of the American Dental Association, the British Society for the Study of Orthodontics and the R.A.C.D.S. In 1956 he became a fellow of dental surgery of the Royal College of Surgeons, England. He was appointed C.M.G. in 1963 and knighted in 1968.

Broad shouldered and well built, Adamson saw the dental fraternity much as an extended family: he was often called upon for his leadership, his knowledge and his connexions, both social and political. Within the Australian Dental Association his approach helped to weld the State delegates into a body with a like-minded professional outlook. An excellent teacher who freely shared his knowledge and enjoyed the one-to-one relationship in surgery or clinic, from 1930 he had published regularly in the Australian Dental Journal. He was patient and skilful in the design and fabrication of orthodontic appliances, and his practice flourished. His concern with the general and dental health of Victorians was revealed on the council of the Dental Hospital where his wisdom in balancing the competing needs of the hospital, university and profession frequently produced an outcome satisfactory to all parties. Under Adamson's chairmanship, the Dental Alumni Research Foundation (formed in 1963) collected funds to build a research centre within the grounds of the hospital for use by the university; in 1975 he also played a central role in combining the university and hospital departments of orthodontics into a single, self-contained unit for treatment, teaching and research, which was named in his honour.

Known as Kenny by his close friends, Adamson was a keen fisherman and golfer. He was fond of music, played the piano, organ and violin, and supported the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Survived by his wife, son and two daughters, he died at his Toorak home on 19 July 1976 and was cremated. A portrait by Harley Griffiths is held by Sir Kenneth's son Thomas.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Dental Journal, Aug 1976
  • University of Melbourne Gazette, Dec 1976
  • Minutes of the Faculty of Dental Science, University of Melbourne, and the Council of Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne and the Australian College of Dentistry (Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne Library)
  • Adamson papers and correspondence (Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne Library)
  • private information.

Citation details

H. F. Atkinson, 'Adamson, Sir Kenneth Thomas (1904–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/adamson-sir-kenneth-thomas-9310/text16337, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 26 March 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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