In 1923, John W. Kemper, a Detroit oral surgeon, returned to the University of Michigan to complete a degree in Medicine (1927). During his second year of residency training in obstetrics and gynecology he was invited by Dr. Chalmers J. Lyons, Professor of Oral Surgery in the School of Dentistry, to become an Instructor in Oral Surgery, and so in 1929 Dr. Kemper joined the dental faculty and discontinued his obstetric and gynecological training. He subsequently became proficient in the treatment of cleft lip and cleft palate and treatment of patients with face and jaw lesions. At that time, there was no recognized Section of Plastic Surgery at the University of Michigan.
In 1935, upon the death of Dr. Chalmers J. Lyons, John Kemper was promoted to full Professor of Dentistry and Head of the Department of Oral Surgery as well as Consultant in Oral Surgery to University Hospital. He was influential in the development of the American Society of Maxillofacial Surgeons and was its second president (1947-48). He was a member of the American College of Surgeons and a founding member of the American Board of Plastic Surgery (1937). At the time of Dr. Kemper's death in 1952, Reed O. Dingman, D.D.S., M D. was offered the chairmanship of the Department of Oral Surgery in the School of Dentistry, which he declined, instead accepting an appointment in the Department of Surgery as an Assistant Professor. Dr. Dingman received his D.D.S. degree and a Master of Science in oral surgery at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, and his M.D. degree from the University of Michigan School of Medicine. He completed a residency at the University of Michigan in oral surgery and was certified by the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery in 1940. He took a surgical internship at Washington University, Barnes Hospital and plastic surgery training under John W. Kemper and Ferris Smith, and was certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery in 1949.
Dr. Dingman's career in surgery and teaching at the University of Michigan began in 1940 as Assistant Professor in the School of Dentistry and finally, in 1964, he established the Section of Plastic Surgery in the Department of Surgery and became the professor and chairman. He served 12 years and then turned over the chairmanship of the Section to William C. Grabb, M.D.
Dr. Grabb had trained in plastic surgery with Dr. Dingman and was subsequently appointed Instructor in the Section of Plastic Surgery. His enthusiasm in teaching and research resulted in promotion to Clinical Assistant Professor in 1967, and Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Surgery, Section of Plastic Surgery in 1969. He was selected as Head of the Section of Plastic Surgery and Professor in the Department of Surgery in 1977. He held this position until the time of his death in 1982. At this time, Dr. Dingman became acting head again, until his death in 1985.
Dr. Dingman and Dr. Grabb represented, both individually, and as a team, the best in plastic surgery. They were dynamic and innovative surgeons, dedicated teachers, inquisitive researchers, and wonderful men. An excerpt from a letter to the Reed D. Dingman Society after Dr. Dingman's death gives some insight into this great man.
"Our gentle giant is gone. Our leader, teacher, confidante, and dear friend will no longer stroll calmly down the hall and ask, "How are you today?" He always waited for an answer because he really wanted to know. The residents will no longer be asked, "What did you do today? How did your case go? Tell me about it. Show me the photographs." Then he would get a cup of coffee, put his feet up and listen to the residents, always offering encouragement. He cared about "his boys" and was proud of them. They, in turn, had great respect and affection for him. John Tipton, cognizant of this leadership combined with his willingness to work shoulder to shoulder with his men, gave him the perfect sobriquet of "Top Dog."
Dr. Grabb became a noted author and editor. He was deeply involved in primary research for the cause and treatment of hemangiomas, nerve injuries, and cleft lip and cleft palate. Perhaps the tribute paid to him by the last group of residents gives the most insightful look into Dr. Grabb as a teacher and surgeon.
We wish to express...our gratitude for what he meant to us as a teacher and friend. Dr. Grabb created for all of us in the residency program a unique atmosphere for academic pursuits that was stimulating, challenging, and pleasurable. His great talent for teaching set an example in humility and honesty that will remain dear to us.
Dr. Dingman and Dr. Grabb have established a strong legacy for plastic surgery at the University of Michigan. A legacy of which we are proud and, hopefully upon which we can continue to build.