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One of a Kind

One of a Kind

Sometimes it's important to remember that when welose treasured friends, we're not really losing them at all.Memories live on, lessons persist, and legacies endure.Great ones connect our very roots to the future and meldall that was with all that can be. Such a person was RobertMurray Ricketts. No more poignant story can be told thanabout the life of this extraordinary man. At a time whencontroversial figures have essentially ceased to exist inour profession, let it be known that he was the quintessentialcontroversial figure. Bold, brazen, arrogant,provocative, and incisive at times. Warm, loving, and nurturingat others. He has been called a Renaissance man.But he was more than that. His passion for life simplytranscended his knowledge about things. Bob Rickettsalways understood that the world is a strange and mysteriousplace and that our quest in life is to understand it abit more completely.

He was a prolific writer and lecturer. In one yearalone he accounted for 12 watershed articles in majorjournals; his tomes on cephalometrics, growth, andmechanics have become standards for many of today'saspiring orthodontists. His two-week in-office coursewas almost a rite of passage for orthodontists in the '70sand '80s. Seasoned professionals were known to quake intheir boots at the thought of being called to the chalkboardto draw the precise anatomy of the temporal orfrontal bone. Thankfully, I got the nasal bone. In hismarathon lectures, Rick taught by stripping people downto the core and then rebuilding them again in his ownlikeness. You thought you knew something and he provedyou didn't. It became the stuff of true believers.

Rick loved to regale his passionate followers withstories of Angle, Brodie, Tweed, Steiner, and others thathe knew, admired, and generally disagreed with. He capturedthe imagination of most all who came within hissphere. He carried a sweet tune, and was often heardcrooning "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" at the back ofthe bus just to keep all eyes on him. A bit of theatricalitywasn't entirely beyond Bob Ricketts.

In fact, this man always knew how to createa stir. It was not unusual to see him in a crampedwaiting room at the end of a busy day running avacuum cleaner, calling for the impatient hordesto lift their feet so he could "get us all out of hereon time". I'm certain there were a great manydinner-table conversations about the humility ofthe great Dr. Ricketts and his not being too pretentiousto do simple tasks. There were no smallchores, only small people.

Rick was an incredibly perceptive man. Ionce saw him walk up to a young boy who wasseated in the operatory wearing a headgear. Heplaced his hand over the child's heart and quietlyasked him how much he was wearing the headgear."Every night", the child replied with assurance.Confused, I later asked Rick why he didsuch a thing. He replied with a grin: "When Iasked him if he was wearing his headgear, hisheartbeat zoomed. He isn't wearing it." Part man,part lie detector.

Whenever I saw Rick he seemed ebullient.He knew that we made choices every morningabout how our day was going to proceed. But justonce, I remember passing him in a crosswalk atan AAO meeting and expressing concern about adivorce he had just gone through. He said,"Jimmy, it's been really tough", and when wehugged each other he started to cry. I thoughthow ironic it was that this passionate and romanticman had succumbed to kryptonite just like therest of us mortals. I couldn't help but cry myself.

His almost complete disregard for economicmatters put some stress in his life, a stress mostof his friends thought should never exist. Somefelt he used the profession in a self-serving way.But to them I would suggest that his love fororthodontics was so innocent and complete that italmost never occurred to him that his effortscould mean financial gain. His obsession forlooking around corners far outweighed his needto make a buck. His passion for orthodonticsdemanded that you never just torqued a wire--you torqued the bejeezus out of it.

It is impossible to lionize any icon withoutadmitting that he had his detractors. Many anorthodontist was seen leaving Rick's lecture hallin a hissy fit of expletives. His story is repletewith instances of cynics in the audience shoutingat him and his shouting back. Many disagreedwith him, but nearly all listened with rapt attention.Looking back, it was a lot of fun and alwayshad that dash of competitive zeal. That doesn'thappen too much any more.

Dr. Robert Murray Ricketts piqued theinterest of an entire generation of orthodontists ina most alluring way. His hearty laugh, his wickedsense of humor, his joy of life, and his profoundinsights will be missed by all who knew him. Hewas, quite simply, one of a kind.


Contributing Editor, JCO

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