Vale Professor John Clement

Professor John Clement held the inaugural Chair in Forensic Odontology, was a Professor at the University of Melbourne and was former Deputy Head of the Melbourne Dental School.

Professor John Clement

Professor John Clement at the Grant Museum of Comparative Anatomy, London.

All three roles carry enormous responsibilities for the community and the University, but, in title alone, they do not do justice to John’s humanity, his love of being around people, and the enormous array of skills and knowledge that he shared with the world for its benefit.

John joined the University from Britain in 1989 and was shortly afterwards appointed head consultant forensic odontologist to the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM). As a forensic scientist, his expertise involved inferring a person’s history by examining their skeletal remains. Through VIFM, he worked closely with the Coroners Court of Victoria and was part of the disaster victim identification teams that responded to the Bali bombings of 2001 and the 2005 Boxing Day tsunami in Thailand.

Over his career spanning more than 40 years, John’s work was crucial for the families of victims and for legal redress. He also worked in the mortuary after the Black Saturday bushfires that devastated Victoria in 2009 and served on expert advisory panels dealing with the identification of missing persons and human remains following conflict and civil strife. These are perhaps the most high-profile examples of John’s work in forensic odontology but there are many other instances around the world where John’s expertise was called upon.

John exemplified community compassion, which he demonstrated daily. The care he displayed, his painstakingly systematic approach to his work, and his skill in uncovering identity and truth was inspirational. In my very limited personal experience of John’s care and consideration in the forensic environment, I saw firsthand not only the value of his work but also how John cared for people after death. It was both an enlightening and a reflective experience.

In his work at the University of Melbourne, John proved to be a gifted researcher, teacher and mentor. He frequently published in high-impact international scientific journals and founded the Melbourne Femur Collection, which attracts the attention of researchers in fields ranging from medical science to anthropology around the world. He helped develop his students’ technical expertise while instilling in them the need to nurture their compassion and sensitivity as they pursued careers in forensics, dentistry and research. This care and mentoring extended to his Melbourne Dental School associates, who are devastated by the loss of their friend and colleague.

John was also a trusted deputy head of school. He was a wonderful, sympathetic yet critical ear for me and provided a gentle voice of reason and reassurance. John blessed us all with his brilliance, his thoughtfulness, his loyalty and his humour.

Many of us shared his love of motorbikes, of vintage cars and of the Australian bush. We relished the shared activities and conversations, which were often sprinkled with stories of John’s multihued life experiences.

At the School, we heard from John on so many occasions how important family was in his life. On behalf of the Melbourne Dental School, the Faculty of Medicine Dentistry and Health Sciences and the University of Melbourne, I extend my condolences to John’s wife Pauline and their children, Hannah, William and Alice.

Professor Mike Morgan
Head, Melbourne Dental School