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Oral pathologist Professor Alison Rich retires after 25 years

Wednesday 15 February 2023 4:05pm

Professor Alison Rich giving her goodbye speech image
Professor Alison Rich giving her goodbye speech.

Oral pathologist Professor Alison Rich has retired after more than 25 years at the University of Otago, including stints as a student, lecturer, Professor, Acting Dean and Head of Department.

Her farewell took place at the end of January at the Faculty of Dentistry and saw many University staff and students gather and share stories about someone who touched the lives of many, and who will be remembered with great admiration and fondness.

Having spent most of her time in the Faculty of Dentistry, where she qualified and worked as an oral pathologist, Professor Rich has taken up many mantles including the Head of the Oral Pathology Centre and Head of the Department of Pathology in the Dunedin School of Medicine.

Dean of the Faculty of Dentistry, Professor Paul Cooper, says that her “contribution to the profession and faculty has been enormous”.

“She has had an illustrious career, graduating in dentistry from Otago before becoming a registrar at Christchurch Hospital. She then moved to the University of Melbourne to undertake postgraduate study and went on to be a lecturer, then a senior lecturer, there. She returned to the University of Otago in 1998 and was promoted to Professor in 2013.

Professor Rich recieving flowers from Client Service Adminstrator Cate Lippers and Head of Department Professor Julia Horsfield image
Professor Rich receiving flowers from Client Service Administrator Cate Lippers and Head of Department Professor Julia Horsfield.

“She has been Acting Dean twice, Head of the Oral Diagnostic and Surgical Sciences Department and Associate Dean of Admissions and Undergraduate Studies as well as being the chair of too many committees to mention. Her research contribution has been stellar and she has gone on to support and mentor both staff and students.

“Personally, I have been lucky enough to know Alison for four years and have really appreciated her friendship, support and straightforward advice over the years. She will be hugely missed and I wish her a long and happy retirement.”

Other speeches were given by the incoming Head of the Department of Pathology, Professor Julia Horsfield, the Acting Pro-Vice-Chancellor (PVC) of the Health Sciences Division Professor Patricia Priest, and many others who reiterated Professor Cooper’s sentiment.

Acting-PVC Professor Patricia Priest sharing some words at the farewell image
Acting-PVC Professor Patricia Priest sharing some words at the farewell.

“Alison is a calm and seasoned leader who was always hugely supportive of the Department and was extremely inclusive in her leadership. She’s always been a great listener and, if I could be half the Head of Department she was, I would be very happy,” Professor Horsfield says.

“Being an Acting Dean is important and challenging, and Alison was generous enough to do that twice, as well as having Associate Dean roles at divisional level. We’re a big division and good leadership is important; I am grateful to Alison on behalf of PVCs past and present,” Acting PVC Professor Priest says.

A previous postgraduate student from Samoa returned to Dunedin to attend Professor Rich’s farewell while other past students sent in video submissions from across the globe, thanking her for the effort she had gone to in helping build their careers. These videos concluded with the note, “we wouldn’t be where we are without you and so thank you for everything”.

Staff and students enjoying the farewell image
Staff and students enjoying the farewell.

The New Zealand Dental Association also sent flowers and a card to thank Professor Rich for her “continuous contribution”, and comments of appreciation from the Dental Council of New Zealand were read.

Professor Rich said it was “heart-warming” to see so many people in attendance and that she is “amazed to have stumbled into a profession that has given her such pleasure”.

“To my Pathology family, it has been an honour working with you over the past few years and, though it hasn’t been easy, you are developing a great balance between clinician and scientist-led pathology teaching. From the senior to the junior researchers, your projects are great, and I think you’re in excellent hands under the leadership of Julia.

“My heart will always be here with the Dental School, and I believe you are being led wisely by Paul.”

Division of Health Sciences, Te Wāhanga Matua Mātau Hauora - Professor Alison Rich