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Thomas F. Mulligan, 1933-2023

I first came to know Dr. Tom Mulligan in the spring of 1968, when he presented a paper for membership in the Southwest Angle Society of Orthodontists. His presentation was a tour de force that flummoxed and bewildered the audience of Angle members, plus faculty and residents of the Baylor University Orthodontic Department. Hardly anyone in attendance knew anything about Burstone biomechanics, but Tom deftly explained how such topics as cantilevers, force-created moments, moment-­to-force ratios, off-center bends, center bends, static equilibrium, and Newtonian physics applied to orthodontic therapies.

Afterward, I approached Tom and asked if he would mind mentoring me in biomechanics, and he eagerly accepted the challenge—which perplexed and bemused him over several decades, as he contended with my congenital confusion and misunderstanding. But Tom never tired of helping me, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Tom’s sense of humor was remarkable, and it stayed with him until the very end. When someone would ask him his age, he would reply, “I am 89, and I should be 91, but I was sick for two years.”

Tom was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, the third of 10 children. He attended Saint John’s University in Minnesota and left in 1953 to serve in the U.S. Army until 1955. He then attended Phoenix College, where he met Maria Teresa de Boas from Caracas, Venezuela, whom he married in 1957 at the end of his first year in the Marquette University School of Dentistry. Upon graduating from Marquette, he enrolled in Indiana University, where he graduated with an MSD in orthodontics. He then opened a practice in Phoenix and treated patients for 55 years.

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Tom’s knowledge of and fervor for orthodontics resulted in more than 600 lectures and university courses in 32 countries. He published more than 25 articles in journals and authored three books, and all of this while maintaining a flourishing private practice.

Tom and Teresa had a splendid life together for 66 years, and they loved their six sons, two daughters, 22 grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren, along with all the spouses. Everyone who met Tom came upon his brightness of spirit and joy for life. The acuity of his wit was inflected by his grand generosity of time and experience.

Tom was the pillar of fire before the camp, and his family, friends, and colleagues, chastened by the dimensions of the void that will replace him, stand bereaved and chilled in the dark—but fully confident that his legacy of kindness, generosity, fidelity, and high purpose will reignite our own personal commitments and enliven our service to others.

In a famous prayer, Cardinal John Henry Newman asked God to grant him each night “a safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last.” It is that “peace at the last” that we wish for our friend Tom Mulligan.




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