A series of serendipitous events
"I'm looking forward to more unscheduled time," says Dr. Richard Ceen, professor and director of the graduate orthodontic
Media Resources/Steven Doll
This longtime faculty member celebrates his retirement this month, but there’s more to this narrative than meets the eye. Ceen gets candid on his pre-Dallas days, building at BCD and of course, the story behind all those cats.
It’s early on a Monday morning as Dr. Richard Ceen leads us around his Dallas home. We’re in search of a good spot for a photo, and from the looks of it, the house is quite conducive to nice lighting — and cats.
Bracket, a snowshoe Siamese, is the first to greet us. Then there’s diminutive Bella, a black cat and the family’s newest addition, sitting innocently — for the moment — on the dining room floor. Mocha, a chocolate Siamese and the eldest of the group, is curled up tightly on her favorite perch: the living room couch.
Sunning herself in the side garden is Gabby, the calico, who, while good natured about posing in a photo with Ceen and his wife, Cindy, promptly smears mulch on Ceen’s khakis. He doesn’t mind.
“I stopped moving when I came to Dallas.”—Dr. Richard Ceen
The morning light streams in from the side window, nearly stretching across the room to one of Ceen’s favorite features: a well-kept alcove fully stocked with single malt Scotch. The Department of Orthodontics’ 50th anniversary book sits squarely in the middle of a nearby end table.
For Ceen, this is home.
It was a foreign concept to him, settling down and putting down roots. That changed 25 years ago when he was recruited to Baylor College of Dentistry to be chair of the orthodontic department.
“I stopped moving when I came to Dallas,” Ceen says.
We’re in the foyer when Ceen changes his train of thought. “It’s been quite a weekend,” he says, Cindy nodding in agreement.
That previous Friday, May 18, they attended the annual orthodontic reception, expecting to honor the program’s graduating residents.
“It was out of left field,” Ceen says of the surprise, given less than a month before his slated June retirement to part-time status from his role as professor and graduate program director. Not only did residents present him with the Robert E. Gaylord Teacher of the Year Award, there was the announcement that a fund — The Richard F. Ceen Endowment for Educational Enrichment — had been established in his honor.
He couldn’t believe it. It was a vote of confidence for a man whose career has for years — and in several locations, at that — focused on developing and maintaining a team of educators. At times, rebuilding was a necessary component.
With Bella, the newest member of the family, perched on one of her
Media Resources/Steven Doll
The story starts back in the 1970s, to Ceen’s early days in the orthodontic profession. First there was the chance to buy the established Greenwich, Conn., private practice from an orthodontist who planned to move abroad. It was perfect timing. Ceen had recently finished his residency at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in New York and wanted to stay in New England.
“We had the contracts all ready to go. All of the sudden I got a call advising me that he was not able to sell the practice until the following year,” Ceen says. He tried looking for another practice to buy, but by then the Arab oil crisis was in full steam and bank interest rates were too high.
Around that time, another opportunity came knocking. It was from Dr. James Horn, Ceen’s Columbia mentor, who wanted his help in developing the orthodontic program for the newly opened State University of New York at Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine.
Ceen was offered a position and moved to Long Island. Mere months after his arrival, Horn unexpectedly passed away.
“Here I was, 28- or 29-years-old and the only orthodontist in the school with the responsibility to create an entire predoctoral program,” Ceen recalls. “To make things worse, New York had a bond crisis, and the money stopped flowing to higher education."
The school couldn’t hire another orthodontist, so Ceen was left to his own devices.
“I didn’t want to lose my friend, but when that happened it was either sink or swim,” he says.
Developing an orthodontic program at such a young age gave Ceen the chance to meet highly experienced professionals.
It also opened doors.
Following seven years at Stony Brook, Ceen was recruited as an associate professor in the orthodontic graduate program to the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, where he later served as department graduate program director and interim chair.
During those years, he did some rebuilding of his own, this time, on the home front. At the time, Ceen and late wife, Elizabeth, invested in a row house near Harborplace and Federal Hill. The home — 85 feet long, 12 feet wide and four stories high, was in dire need of renovation.
“We restored the property to code in six months, and it took about four more years to finish the reconstruction,” Ceen says. “Then I got a call.”
It was from Dr. James Gutmann, then chair of the endodontic department at Baylor, who was leading the search committee for a new orthodontic chair at the dental school.
He asked Ceen if he might be interested in applying. “I was honored to receive consideration at such an outstanding department,” Ceen says.
With Gabby the calico
Media Resources/Steven Doll
Building a life at BCD
“Serendipity has always played a role in my life,” says Ceen. “I’m not someone to plan everything out to the ‘nth’ degree.”
It’s a good thing, because shortly after leaving Maryland in 1987 and assuming the post of chair at Baylor College of Dentistry’s orthodontic department, things changed again. Ceen was left to rebuild — in some cases, literally.
“It was a great department, with a lot of really long-term professionals,” Ceen says of the orthodontic program at the time he came on as chair. But then, as luck would have it, the department lost four of its seasoned faculty members during the first 18 months of his tenure. Dr. Henri Petit returned home to France. Dr. Peter Sinclair accepted a program director position at the University of North Carolina. Then Drs. Joe Jacobs and Moody Alexander became part-time faculty.
“Here I was,” Ceen recalls. “Once again I had to face rebuilding of a faculty.”
He didn’t waste any time.
During his decade as chair, and with support from former dean Richard Bradley, Ceen led the department in recruiting a strong line of orthodontists and researchers, starting with Dr. Peter Buschang. Recruiting a research scientist into a clinical department was a first for the college, but Ceen felt it was essential to building a comprehensive and balanced department. Bradley agreed.
Back in the late ’80s, the department’s offices were scattered across the dental school. It became more apparent as Ceen continued to recruit full-time faculty to the orthodontic team that there was a need to bring them together in one location. When the seventh floor was constructed faculty offices were consolidated, and the Center for Craniofacial Research and Diagnosis was added, along with a computer laboratory. The second-floor orthodontic clinic also underwent major renovation.
“With all the reconstruction going on, the graduating residents gave me the nickname ‘Handy Dan,’” Ceen laughs. He still has the hard hat and hammer the residents gave him as a gag gift all those years ago.
Something else happened throughout those rebuilding years. Friendships formed and grew within the Baylor community. He and Cindy met at TAMHSC-BCD. On their first date she told him that she couldn’t call him Dr. Ceen anymore. They were married in 1995.
The Baylor family
It’s a Thursday in late April when I meet with Julie Bradshaw to talk about her experiences working with Ceen since she was hired in 1995. Before saying anything, she tears up. His June 12 retirement reception is more than a month away, and she’s still figuring out what she’ll say and how she’ll hold it all together.
The story is the same with Dru Lewis, clinic manager in orthodontics, who said she didn’t even know if she would talk at the reception. “I would just get too emotional,” she said.
Back on the seventh floor, Bradshaw, assistant to the chair in orthodontics, starts with the basics.
“He’s one of the kindest people,” she says. “He’s very caring and really knows about everyone’s families.
“Believe me; he’s known a lot, in 17 years, with my five kids.”
Bradshaw shares a story.
“My youngest daughter was supposed to be in school. Dr. Ceen went to Mesquite and saw her at a gas station getting gas. Being himself, he went and chatted with her, came back to the office and told me how he saw her. Then it hit him. ‘Isn’t she supposed to be in school?’ he asked. She got busted.”
Bradshaw offers more insight into Ceen’s work style.
“He’s an excellent mediator,” she says. “He always thinks of both sides of the situation. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say anything bad about anyone.
“If you give him a project, it’s going to be done right. And, it’s probably going to be done two months in advance.”
“He’s just the most genuine person I’ve met and worked for.
You can’t say enough good things about him.”
— Dru Lewis
It’s probably one reason Dr. Phillip Campbell, who holds the Robert E. Gaylord Endowed Chair and serves as chair of the department of orthodontics, is keeping Ceen around on a part-time basis even after his retirement begins.
“He’s been a real asset to the department, says Campbell, who helped interview Ceen during that 1980s search for a new orthodontic chair. “He’s a good teacher, and he’s very kind to people, just a good person,” Campbell says.
Dr. Eric Solomon, professor and executive director of institutional research, has been at TAMHSC-BCD since 1992 and used to lunch regularly with Cindy, then assistant dean for administration. It’s how he got to know Ceen, now a good friend.
“Let me tell you about Richard,” says Solomon. “He is the quintessential faculty member. I don’t exaggerate when I say he is the standard by which all faculty should be measured. He is thorough, extremely caring, competent and thoughtful.”
Lewis, who has worked in the orthodontic department for most of her 16 years at the dental school, shares a humorous story about Ceen’s concern for each of his orthodontic residents. He’s taught more than 150 of them over the past two decades.
“One time we were in the clinic. One of the residents didn’t come in, and we got concerned,” Lewis says. “We went to his apartment, got the maintenance guy. Then he came to the door. He had literally just slept in. You should have seen his face,” she says, describing the resident’s wide-eyed expression.
“From that point on, whenever he arrived to class or clinic, Dr. Ceen would tease him ‘Oh, you came to class today,’” she says.
Lewis’ family has gotten close to him over the years. Her daughter, now a nurse, has cat-sat at the Ceens’ house, which brings Lewis to another anecdote.
“He came into the clinic, and he was all scratched up,” she says. “He had to take the cat to the vet that morning, and he tried to put the cat in a cage. It did not want to go.”
Days like that don’t affect Ceen’s productivity, though.
“He starts thinking about stuff a year ahead, Lewis says. “We always knew Dr. Ceen would have a project ready to go; we would never be doing anything last minute.”
As Lewis describes Ceen’s character, her tone becomes serious.
“Every year he gets everyone a Christmas gift,” she says. “Anytime he buys a card or gift, he buys it for you.
“He’s just the most genuine person I’ve met and worked for. You can’t say enough good things about him.”