In the early spring of 1962, the orange light on my operatory bus board flashed. I picked up the phone and heard a guy with a California accent introduce himself.
He said, “I'm Bob James. You don't know me, but I'm in New York for the Seventh Day Adventist Dentists meeting. Would you speak with me after your lecture tomorrow at the Plaza Hotel?” (I was there for our annual AAID meeting). I assured him that I would but was not interested in being proselytized. I also told him that was a distinctive euphony to the name of his organization. We both chuckled. The next day this good-looking guy came over, informed me in no uncertain terms that my lecture was confusing, and explained the reason for his interest. He had been asked to give a talk on implants at the Adventist meeting and did not have a clue about them. It was to be presented in 24 hours at (of all places) Grossinger's Hotel in the Catskill Mountains. Funny thing for these Christians to go to a kosher resort, I thought. Subsequently, I discovered that this denomination had been influenced significantly by parts of the Old Testament (ie, no pig products in their diets and observation of the Sabbath on Saturdays).
He was not hesitant to admit his total ignorance of implants; he had never seen one and had never even given a lecture of any kind on any subject. The two of us found a quiet corner of the lobby, plugged in my projector, and spent about 3 hours preparing him to give a 20-minute talk on some simple principles of the Chérchève implant. “Good luck,” I muttered, sotto voice. His dry lips indicated, more than any of his reassurances, that tomorrow was going to be a major trauma for him.
Two days later he called me from his office in Bermuda. His lecture had been a great success, he said. Because the group knew nothing about implants, his meager knowledge had made a worthwhile contribution. My good deed done for the day, I later refused to assist a lady in a wheelchair who was attempting to cross a busy thoroughfare.
Dr James and I did not speak again for a couple of months. My wife wanted to spend Easter in Bermuda, but she had been unable to find an accommodation. As Franklin Roosevelt once noted during one of his fireside chats, a man is never a hero to his valet, his secretary, or his wife. Because my experiences domestically and professionally were living examples of the validity of that aphorism, I planned a big comeback. I called Bob and asked him if he had any influence with local hotel managers or reservation clerks. Without hesitation he said that he would meet us at the airport.
Sure enough, as my little family emerged into the warm sunlight, there was Bob, Ruthie, Bobby, and Rhonda along with a family entourage—about a dozen uncles, aunts, and cousins—warmly exclaiming that they were happy to see us. Bob explained that the reason they had all come was to supply transportation and also to see what New Yorkers looked like and how they spoke.
He continued by outlining his many unsuccessful attempts to find lodging for us. “No problem, though,” he said, “we're taking you to my mother-in-law's.” Arriving in Paget, we found a lovely house surrounded by banana trees, a well-tended lawn, and a strawberry patch, and it was just a stone's throw from the beach. After he and his family moved us in, we discovered that this house had only 2 bedrooms and that Ruthie and Bob had given us theirs. Despite our voluble objections they refused to change their minds; they would sleep in the living room. Besides, where could they put Marilyn's steamer trunk and two 44-inch suitcases? We settled in, and at about 6:00 pm Bob suggested that we go out to dinner at The Waterfront, a nice restaurant on East Broadway. It was dark when we finished and all 4 of the kids were asleep. Each of us picked up a child and began to cross the road when suddenly, roaring out of nowhere, came a huge motorcycle piloted by a very inebriated driver. Bob reacted quickly, pushing Ruthie and me toward the opposing curb. Marilyn, with 6-year-old Andrew in her arms, unfortunately became the drunken man's victim. He struck her and carried the 2 of them until they fell in a heap on a grassy shoulder. Bob quickly untangled the mess, called the ambulance, and rode with them to the King Edward Hospital. There Dr Wolfe cleansed Marilyn's knees and elbows of gravel and tar (afterward she had black tattoos for about 5 years) and used over 20 sutures to close Andrew's scalp wound. We all returned to Bob's place and slept until noon. Ruthie took charge of the victims; my 8-year-old Jonathan went to the beach to play with Bobbie and Rhonda; and Bob asked me to come to his office, which was located in the Bank of Butterfield Building, just above the historic stocks, in St Georges.
The office was well equipped and contained every modern accoutrement. Bob had me examine his first patient, Mr Freitas, and asked me about assisting him with the placement of a couple of root-form implants in the lower left quadrant. We reviewed the required armamentarium and he called his Washington, DC, supplier, who promised delivery within the week. I remained with him until the end of the day, during which we gave 2 patients intravenous sedation. When we returned home, he redressed Andrew's scalp.
Later that week, when I came to his office, Mr Freitas was seated in the chair, and with my help he inserted 2 Chérchève implants. Subsequently he became very adept in the practice of implant surgery and prosthodontics.
In 1970, when Bobby was ready for college, his parents wanted an Adventist education for him. They picked up all their worldly possessions and moved to Loma Linda, located in Orange County, Calif. Dr James, inspired by his early successes, wanted to know more about the underlying mechanisms that were responsible for implant survival. He spoke with one of the faculty members, Lloyd Baum, who at the time was chairman of the Department of Restorative Dentistry. With his encouragement, as well as that of professors Elmer Kelln and Donald L. Peters, Bob became enrolled in a masters program in the Department of Oral Medicine. Two years later, he was awarded his MS degree, which required a thesis. That publication was entitled “A Histopathological Study of the Nature of the Epithelium Surrounding Implant Posts,”1 and it quickly became established as the authoritative source for those interested in endosseous implant ecology. Very shortly thereafter, his lecture schedule, his newly established Implant Center at the university, and his clinical research with primates made him known around the world. He is responsible for having trained more implant-oriented graduates than any other teacher in academia. The American Dental Association appointed him as its official spokesperson regarding the subject. Scientists held him in their highest esteem for his discovery of the roles of hemidesmasomes and mucopolysaccharides at the interface.
Through the years, until his untimely death in 1995, Bob and I continued to visit one another for both social and professional reasons. His premature demise created a void in the national and international scientific community that may never be filled. At Loma Linda, arguably the most outstanding clinical, research, and educational implant center in the world, his inspiration is still responsible for their overwhelming reputation. I am grateful to have known him as a professional and, more importantly, as a wonderful friend. I will never forget the inscription in his thesis: “To Norman, my father in Implantology, a close friend, a constant source of encouragement and inspiration; my deepest gratitude for all these and more.”
Robert James wrote that in June 1972. To this day, his words continue to inspire me.
A. Norman Cranin, DDS, DEng, is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Oral Implantology