Dentistry Professor Emeritus honours former colleague through monthly donations

L – Dr. Joseph Tonzetich, Photo: Jim Banham. R – Dr. Don Brunette, Photo: Martin Dee

Donald Brunette retired in December 2015 from a thirty-six year career as a Professor and former Associate Dean with UBC’s Faculty of Dentistry. He taught and researched oral biology – the basic science of dentistry – developing better surfaces for implants and studying cell migration that made implants fail or succeed. But in addition to teaching and researching for the last 36 years, he also did something else: donate monthly to UBC Dentistry.

“I don’t remember when I started,” he says. “But it was such a painless way to give, that I kept it up. Every month, an automatic payment, and then at the end of the year, a tax receipt.”

At first, Dr. Brunette donated to the Faculty of Dentistry general fund. But in 1994 he started donating to the Joseph Tonzetich Fellowship. Dr. Tonzetich was a former colleague in the Faculty of Dentistry who was a renowned specialist in the science of oral malodor – or bad breath. With funds he received from industrial testing and other professional services, Dr. Tonzetich set up two endowment funds to support graduate students undertaking research in oral biology within the Faculty of Dentistry.

“Joe was one of the most generous colleagues I have ever worked with,” says Dr. Brunette. “At a time when many colleagues found it hard to find funding, and Joe had excess from his consulting, he would buy expensive equipment that was meant for all to use, helping other colleagues establish themselves and ultimately advancing our field of research.”

Dr. Tonzetich’s generosity carried over to students not only through the awards he established but also through his willingness to support and mentor students through their studies in dentistry. Dr. Brunette felt that there was no better way to honour a respected, generous colleague than by directing his own donations to Dr. Tonzetich’s endowments.

“I received scholarships myself when I was a student, and I know that Joe did too. And over the years I’ve been at UBC, I’ve seen so many students supported by this and other funds, and I know what a huge difference scholarships, awards, and fellowships can make,” he says. “Especially in oral biology, which I feel is really underfunded compared to other fields in dentistry. It’s the basic science that lies behind what we do, and it’s vital to the profession and to the health of everyone in our community.”

Even what seem like smaller donations from one person can have a major impact on an award: over his thirty six years of supporting UBC, Dr. Brunette has donated over $10,000, a sum that will make an indelible impact on the lives of students.