Noteworthy alumnus and global humanitarian to be keynote speaker at UCLA Dentistry commencement

Posted on: Monday, 05/12/2014

Alumnus and well-known oral and maxillofacial surgeon, Gary Parker, DDS ’77, will be the keynote speaker for the UCLA School of Dentistry’s commencement ceremony on Sunday, June 1 at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

During the ceremony, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block will present Parker with the UCLA Medal, the university’s highest honor.

The UCLA Medal is bestowed on those of exceptionally distinguished academic and professional achievement whose bodies of work or contributions to society illustrate the highest ideals of UCLA. Recipients have included national and international leaders in government, education, science, industry and the arts. Previous recipients include Nobel laureates, President Bill Clinton, UCLA alumnus and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, basketball coach John Wooden, Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun and UCLA alumna and astronaut Anna Lee Fisher.

Last fall, Parker was featured on the nationally televised CBS news show, “60 Minutes” for his work aboard Mercy Ships. He was also awarded the 2013 AAOMS Humanitarian Award by the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons as well as the 2012 UCLA School of Dentistry Alumnus of the Year Award.

For the last 28 years, Parker has surgically treated the disfigured on board Africa Mercy, the world’s largest charity ship of its kind. Africa Mercy is part of Mercy Ships, a not-for-profit organization that consists of a fleet of hospital ships that travel the globe providing free medical and dental care to people in impoverished countries. He has performed surgery on thousands of patients who suffer from congenital deformities in the head and neck region, such as cleft lip and palate. In addition to his duties as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, Parker became the ships’ Chief Medical Officer in 1995, and has held both responsibilities since then.

“I am proud to call Gary Parker an alumnus of the UCLA School of Dentistry. He has selflessly served people in need by providing oral and maxillofacial surgery to people in Africa without compensation,” said Dr. No-Hee Park, dean and distinguished professor, UCLA School of Dentistry. “He is living out the School of Dentistry’s mission to improve the oral health of the world.”

Over the past two decades, Parker has provided dental treatment to impoverished nations, including Belize, Benin, The Dominican Republic, The Republic of Congo, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mexico, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Togo.

Parker received his DDS degree from UCLA in 1977 and completed two residency programs – Hospital Dentistry in 1978 and Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery in 1982. Following his advanced training, he began his career in the North Wales’ Oral and Maxillofacial Surgical Unit with the British National Health Service. After serving the National Health Service for five years, he joined Mercy Ships in 1986, as a volunteer surgeon and has been with the organization ever since.

In addition to treating individuals with congenital deformities, Parker also performs reconstruction after destructive infections, removes tumors, repairs burn damages and other similar problems in the facial, head, and neck region.