Obituary: Professor Howard Tonge

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The Independent Online
Cecil Howard Tonge, oral anatomist, born Sunderland 16 December 1915, Professor of Oral Anatomy Newcastle upon Tyne University 1964-81 (Emeritus 1981), Dental Postgraduate Sub-Dean 1968-82, President British Dental Association 1981-82, married 1946 Helen Currie, died Newcastle upon Tyne 16 September 1992.

HOWARD TONGE, the former Professor of Oral Anatomy at Newcastle upon Tyne University, was a big man both in stature and in importance.

After he had graduated in medicine and dentistry at Durham University, the subject of anatomy became his major interest. He held successive junior and more senior appointments, before being appointed to the newly established Chair of Oral Anatomy in the Dental School at Newcastle.

Tonge was a gifted teacher who made anatomy a living discipline and he was renowned for his blackboard drawings in multicoloured chalks using both hands simultaneously while speaking at the same time. He was a real member of the university, always willing to offer his many skills widely and outside his faculty; his contributions to various university committees were pertinent, constructive and respected.

Tonge's particular research interest was in cranio-facial embryology - the development of the skull and the facial structures including oral anatomy - in which he became an international authority. He was awarded the degree of Doctor of Dental Science (a higher doctorate) in 1959 for his thesis 'The Early Development of Teeth', in which he covered the development of the oral epithelium (the surface layer of tissue), the formation of the tooth germ in respect of the epithelial pattern for individual teeth, and the origin and disposition of the epithelial remnants which occur during development. He published in many prestigious journals including the Journal of Anatomy, British Journal of Nutrition, Journal of Dental Research, Nature, International Dental Journal and the British Dental Journal. His work was authoritative and well written.

Tonge's reputation in research was recognised by his presidency of the British Division of the International Association for Dental Research in 1968, and his dental professional status by his appointment as President of the British Dental Association in 1981.

Howard Tonge was the first Postgraduate Dental Dean in Newcastle and his work initiated a tremendous and beneficial upsurge in postgraduate and continuing education for general dental practitioners. Likewise the development of his full-time postgraduate students gave him much personal pleasure and there are many dental academics in the UK and abroad who have good reason to be grateful for his influence.

He had a deep interest in health care and for many years was a member of the Sunderland Health Authority, being its Vice-Chairman from 1982 until 1987.

Tonge enjoyed his association with the Territorial Army and as a lieutenant-colonel in the RAMC (TA) he commanded the 151(N) Field Ambulance 1954-58. He was an active participant in field exercises and had masterly control and manipulation of tanks. He was an honorary colonel of the Northumbrian Universities OTC (1974-82) and Chairman of the Council of Military Education Committees of the Universities of the UK (1968-82). His extra-curricular interests meant he was well qualified to help undergraduates to add other dimensions to their university education.

History was Tonge's relaxation and hobby. He was fascinated by the effect of disease and disease processes on the decision-making of historical figures like King Henry VIII and the US President Woodrow Wilson, and his lectures on the subject were stimulating and provocative.

Howard Tonge observed and analysed. He was shrewd and canny in the lovable Northumbrian sense. Throughout he maintained an allegiance for, and a love of, the north-east of England where he was born and educated and where he was acknowledged as a man of stature and influence.

(Photograph omitted)