Distinguished Achievement Alumni Award: Robert Morris, DDS '69, MPH, FICD

Robert Morris, DDS '69This award honors an alum for significant professional accomplishments in science, dentistry, or education. In its third year, the award recognizes Robert Emmet Morris, DDS ‘69, MPH, FICD, for exceptional achievements in and international contributions to the oral health field.‌

Morris has devoted his professional career in health to improving the lives of vulnerable populations. His leadership on issues of international public health policy during more than 25 years has resulted in improved public health systems and better health across multiple continents and an indispensable legacy in the development of larger and better qualified bodies of health professionals.

After graduating UMSOD in 1969, Morris was posted to the 5th Marine Division, Da Nang, Vietnam as a Lieutenant in the United States Navy Dental Corps. Despite minimum military training, Morris was responsible for the oral health of 1100 marines of the 1st Marine Battalion in the highlands west of Da Nang as well as small Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) outposts. In recognition of his service to his fellow seamen and marines, his voluntary travel to bases deep into the war zone, and his work with Vietnamese villagers, to whom he provided voluntary dental care, the U.S. Navy honored him in 1970 with the Unite States Navy Achievement Medal for bravery, outstanding professionalism, and humanitarian efforts to the Vietnamese people.

In the early 1970s, Morris served in a series of volunteer efforts in the mountain villages of Baja Mexico, the Free Clinic of Baltimore, and three years as a professor at UMSOD. In 1975 Morris joined the Pan American Health Organization and was posted to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. As project manager and senior lecturer, he established a School of Dental Nursing, graduating dental nurses from 13 developing countries of the Caribbean, Central America and South America. This project dramatically improved the ratios of dental operators available for children’s health care and prevention in the region.

In 1985 Morris returned to the USA and received his Master of Public Health from the Harvard School of Public health in 1986, concentrating on international health policy and planning. He joined the Ministry of Health, Kuwait as a Planner and Trainer, and under his consultant leadership, helped develop a school of oral hygiene, a national university-based dental school at Kuwait University, a post graduate training center for refugee dentists, and the “Health for All/2000/Oral Health Plan”, a comprehensive oral disease prevention program for the children of Kuwait, the largest most effective of its kind in Southwest Asia.

In 1990 Saddam Hussein’s army invaded Kuwait and Morris became a hostage.  After escaping from Iraq and returning to Boston, he returned to Kuwait after the Gulf War and served as the Senior Consultant to the Ministry of Health and was solely responsible for planning the post-war reconstruction of the oral health sector as well as implementing the comprehensive disease prevention program for children.

In 2006, Robert and his wife Jill Morris returned to Vietnam to establish the Mai Tam House of Hope Project. The goal of the Project was to provide start-up seed money over 5 years for food and life-saving medicines to a targeted group of HIV/AIDS positive orphans, children and mothers, in order to ensure a quality of life consistent with their healthy peers and surroundings. Originally conceived to support 5 orphans at the new Mai Tam House of Hope in Ho Chi Minh City, founded in 2005 by Father John Toai of Vietnam, the Mai Tam House of Hope has supported more than 550 HIV/AIDS positive orphans, children, and widows through the provision of shelter, medicines, medical care, education, job training and social services. In the same period and for the last thirteen years, he has represented the New England organization nomorevictims.org, which brings child victims of war to Boston for major medical reconstruction. 

Morris has been recognized with several prestigious awards. In 2000, Morris was one of eleven living dentists worldwide to be honored at the Centenary Congress Year 2000 of the Federation Dentaire Internationale for life-long service to international health and contributions to oral health research in the twentieth century. In 2010, Morris was honored by the College of The Holy Cross with the Sanctae Crucis Award, the college’s highest non-academic award for alumni/ae, and in in 2014, Morris received the Harvard School of Public Health highest alumni award, The Alumni Award of Merit, in recognition of his decades of leadership, development of health policy, and dedication to serving vulnerable populations.