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Sir John Victor Hall Best (1894–1972)

by A. O. Watson

This article was published:

Sir John Victor Hall Best (1894-1972), dentist, was born on 22 December 1894 at Neuchâtel, Switzerland, son of Rev. John Henry Hall Best, the English chaplain, and his wife Laura Louisa, née Kountze. After serving from 1903 at St James's Cathedral, Townsville, Queensland, John senior moved his family to Sydney in 1905, first to All Saints, Woollahra, and in 1907 to Lane Cove. Educated at public schools, young Jack was coached for the matriculation examinations by Florence Oakes. Best studied dentistry at the University of Sydney (B.D.S., 1916), graduated with first-class honours and practised at Mount Gambier, South Australia, in 1917-21. He went to the United States of America in 1921 and entered Harvard University (D.M.D., 1922) where he formed a chain of enduring friendships and became a life member of Delta Sigma Delta fraternity.

Returning to Sydney, Best established a practice in Macquarie Street and joined the Australian Club. On 19 December 1927 at St Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point, he married Marion Esdaile Burkitt. She was to become an interior designer and to enhance his surgery with antique furniture and with the brilliant colours which were her trademark. John and Marion were keen golfers who belonged to Royal Sydney Golf and Elanora Country clubs; they won several trophies in the 1930s.

A gifted administrator, Hall Best (as he was by now generally known) was honorary secretary (1925-27) of the Society of Dental Science, a founder in 1928 of the Australian Dental Association, a council-member (1928-54) and president (1935-37) of its New South Wales branch, federal president (1940-44 and 1950-54) of the A.D.A. and a member (1937-51) of the Dental Board of New South Wales. He published extensively in Australian and American journals. While interested in improved techniques in most branches of dentistry, he gave special attention to dentures.

A member (from 1940) of the Central Medical Co-ordination Committee, in December 1942 Hall Best volunteered for the Australian Imperial Force and served as a consulting dental surgeon with the rank of lieutenant colonel. As chairman of the central dental advisory committee within the Directorate of Manpower, in 1943-44 he was confronted with a serious shortage of dentists, and had to allocate personnel to balance the demands of the armed services and the needs of civilians. He transferred to the Reserve of Officers in April 1944.

When Hall Best was appointed president of the 12th Australian Dental Congress, to be held in Sydney in August 1950, he immediately went to Europe and the U.S.A. to investigate the latest methods of visual education. He arranged the televising of a dental operation for the congress and invited specialists of international standing to address its members. By introducing Dr Basil Bibby to government leaders and public health authorities, he increased their understanding of the importance of adding fluoride to drinking water. Hall Best persuaded interstate dentists to agree to publish one journal instead of three and in 1955-72 chaired the board of the Australian Dental Journal; its first issue appeared in February 1956.

He did much to raise the status of the Australian dental profession at home and abroad. Awarded the R. Fairfax Reading memorial prize (1955) by the Dental Alumni Society of the University of Sydney, he was knighted in 1956. Hall Best was a fellow of the American College of Dentists (1938), the Australian College of Dental Surgeons (1969) and of the Royal College of Surgeons, England (1949). He wore a pale-blue dental jacket when his colleagues still wore white.

Sir John grew orchids in his garden at Queen Street, Woollahra, and acquired land at Collaroy for his plants. He was president (1957-60) of the Orchid Society of New South Wales, and a founder and first president (1961-64) of the Australian Orchid Council. Well dressed and dapper, intelligent and witty, he enjoyed reading biographies and history. He was also interested in the architecture of English parish churches and in High Church liturgy and ceremonial. A warden for many years, he regularly worshipped at Christ Church St Laurence. He died on 27 February 1972 at his Woollahra home and was cremated; his wife, son and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. W. Halliday, A History of Dentistry in New South Wales, 1788 to 1945, A. O. Watson ed (Syd, 1977)
  • Dental Alumni Society of the University of Sydney, Apollonia, v 2, no 3, Dec 1955, p 15
  • Australian Dental Journal, v 1, no 1, Feb 1956, p 66, v 17, no 2, Apr 1972, pp 147, 150, v 21, no 1, Feb 1976, p 1
  • Australian Dental Association (New South Wales Branch), Newsletter, Apr 1972, p 3
  • Australian Orchid Review, June 1972, p 85
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 Aug 1937, 16 Aug 1950, 18 Dec 1952, 2 Jan 1956, 12 Apr 1972
  • private information.

Citation details

A. O. Watson, 'Best, Sir John Victor Hall (1894–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 26 February 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Hall Best, John Victor

22 December, 1894
Neuchatel, Switzerland


27 February, 1972 (aged 77)
Woollahra, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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