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Dentistry professor emeritus celebrated for lifetime achievement

Dr. Frank Lovely (DDS’59), professor emeritus, head of the Faculty of Dentistry’s OMFS department, 1966-1986, and creator of the Faculty of Dentistry’s MSc in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, is the 2024 recipient of the Dalhousie Golden Eagle Lifetime Achievement Award. This award recognizes remarkable and longstanding connection and commitment to the advancement of academic excellence at Dalhousie University.
Frank Lovely portrait

Posted: May 24, 2024

By: Cheryl Bell

Dr. Frank Lovely (DDS’59) surveys the wall of the oral and maxillofacial clinic in the basement of Halifax’s Victoria General Hospital. It contains photos of every resident — over 50 in all — who completed their oral and maxillofacial surgery training at Dalhousie University.

This wall, he says, represents “everything” for him. “It’s the beginning of our department, it’s our progress over the years, and it’s where we currently are.” And it all began with him.

Frank Lovely portrait for Golden Eagle Award video Watch the video: 2024 Golden Eagle Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Dr. Frank Lovely.

The making of a dentist

Dr. Lovely’s simple upbringing reveals few clues to the life that was to follow. He grew up as an only child in East Florenceville, N.B. In many respects, it was an idyllic childhood. Summers were spent on his grandparents’ farms, and he enjoyed skating and other outdoor activities with his mother. But his early years were also marked by the Second World War. His mother worked in a potato processing plant and his father served in the army in England for nearly six years, returning home when his son was 10. “It was the first time I knew a male presence in the house,” Dr. Lovely says.

By the time he was 12, summers were spent working in the local Co-Op, which he did until he finished high school. His academic success led to a Sharp Scholarship, which covered the cost of his two years at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. Those two years — including summer courses — gave him the 15 pre-med credits required to get into dentistry school.

So, why dentistry? In short: an inspiring role model. “Dr. Don Somerville was our family dentist,” explains Dr. Lovely. “He and his wife attended our church, he was in the Shriners, and he was a real community guy. He had a real influence on me.”

Dr. Lovely arrived at Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Dentistry when he was 20 years old.  Tuition for the dentistry program was expensive even in 1955 and he admits he “ran out of cash” at the end of first year. His solution was to join the army on the three-year Regular Officer Training Program (ROTP), which covered tuition and provided a small monthly stipend. Summers were spent at CFB Borden where Dr. Lovely completed basic training and even carried out minor surgeries in the summer after third year. The experience “gave me a jump start on fourth year,” he says.

The path to oral and maxillofacial surgery

When he graduated in 1959 — now married to his wife Harriet, a nursing instructor — Dr. Lovely began three years of military service at CFB Stadacona in Halifax. His time at the base proved to be a pivotal moment in his career.

Dr. Lovely explains that weekends were usually busy on the base. The young seamen who lived in the barracks were paid in cash on Friday and then went out on the town in their cars. “It was in the days before seatbelts and collapsible steering wheels,” he says, and sometimes there were scuffles outside the bars. The result was a lot of jaw fractures and other oral and facial injuries. Dr. Lovely spent a good portion of his time wiring jaws and making other repairs to teeth and faces.

In 1960, during his second year at Stadacona, the military sent Dr. Lovely to London, England, to spend four months at the Royal College of Surgeons learning from three different oral and maxillofacial surgeons. The experience would, he says, “whet my appetite for oral surgery.” It also left him with the words of Sir Terrance Ward, one of the surgeons, who said that “oral surgery would never grow in Canada until it started to educate its own people.” 

The Faculty of Dentistry’s first graduate program

Dr. Lovely was preparing to leave the military when he received a call from the dean of the Faculty of Dentistry at Dalhousie, Dr. J. D. McLean, asking to meet with him.  “It was a timely call,” says Dr. Lovely, “and it changed my career and life forever.”

The result was a job offer, not only to teach, but to establish the Faculty of Dentistry’s first graduate program, an MSc in oral and maxillofacial surgery. It was an offer with strings attached, however: he had to get a master’s degree in oral surgery and commit to the Faculty of Dentistry for six years. He said yes, and after a year of teaching at Dalhousie, Dr. Lovely, his wife and two sons (Doug, DDS’88, and Greg, DDS’85) left for the University of Michigan in 1963. His program involved stints in clinic and surgery, lectures, and call duties. Harriet wasn’t allowed to work in the U.S., so she volunteered, and a daughter, Kim, was added to the Lovely family.

The return to Halifax in 1966 quickly plunged Dr. Lovely into a whirlwind of teaching, creating the new degree program, gaining Senate approval, and supervising the building and equipping of the OMFS clinic in the newly built Centennial wing of the Victoria General Hospital.

The task was huge, but Dr. Lovely says his time in Michigan gave him the knowledge he needed to plan the 18 credit hours required for the new OMFS degree. He lined up lecturers in other departments, including anesthesia and pharmacology, and assumed responsibility for teaching anatomy and surgical anatomy himself.

In 1969, the newly minted Masters in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery program accepted its first resident, Dr. David Precious (DDS’69, MSc’72, LLD’13), who would go on to become department head and dean of the Faculty of Dentistry. (Both Drs. Lovely and Precious are listed among Dal’s Notable Alumni.) Over 50 years later, the program continues to accept one resident each year.

Drs. Robertson and Lovely sit together in a dental clinic. Dr. Chad Robertson (MSc’02, MD’03), an associate professor and current chair of the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery with Dr. Frank Lovely. (Nick Pearce photos)

A career and a legacy

Looking back over his career, which encompasses leading roles in both professional OMFS bodies and at Dalhousie, Dr. Lovely says he is most proud of the “structure we set up in surgery and the philosophy we developed that has continued to this day.” He also mentions the “rewards of clinical care” and illustrates what he means with a story.

One day at Centennial rink, the facility manager asked Dr. Lovely if he recognized a young man who was also working at the rink. The manager explained that when the young man — his son — was nine, he was hit by a truck while riding his bicycle and dragged. The injuries were terrible. An orthopaedic surgeon and Dr. Lovely together spent over 12 hours operating, with Dr. Lovely repairing around 10 facial fractures. Over 20 years later, the only sign of the accident was one small scar hidden in an eyebrow. “They both told me how grateful they were for spending all that time and being so meticulous,” he recalls.

“It’s these things people tell you afterwards and the lives changed that really matter.”

Dr. Lovely says he received the best advice of his career during the hectic time of setting up the OMFS program from Dr. Arthur Murphy, a friend and colleague in the Faculty of Medicine. “Don’t leave,” he said to me. “Take your time, be patient, and don’t rush. It will happen.”

Happen it did. The photos on the wall in the basement of the Centennial wing at the VG Hospital are a testament to both Dr. Lovely’s career and his pioneering achievement at Dalhousie University.

Two people pose holding a painting at an event. Dr. Lovely was honoured at a special brunch with Dalhousie President Kim Brooks.