Internet Explorer and Edge browser users:
To download Word, Excel or PowerPoint files please right-click on the file you wish to download, and select 'Save target as...'

Jimmy Steele: a great man and a great dentist

Blog Author Rob Chaffe

Blog Date 23/11/2017




I was very sad to hear of the passing of Professor Jimmy Steele last week, who died 22 months after being diagnosed with glioblastoma. 


I wanted to share this news with any young dentists who did not yet hear of his passing, so we can remember how Jimmy influenced our careers, and put a smile on our faces.


As an undergraduate student at Newcastle University, Jimmy was one of my clinical teachers from second year. He taught hundreds of students in the phantom head clinic on the top floor of the dental hospital.


It was a great time full of fun, and a little stressful, when having to pass the tests for all the different cavity preparations. 


A lot of the things in the press about Jimmy will be attributed to the Steele review and adult dental health surveys, but he was also a great clinician and teacher, with an amazing sense of humour. His lectures and speeches were always very tongue in cheek, and he loved to have a bit of banter with his students on the restorative consultant clinics. 


I am sure many of us will recall a good Jimmy Steele story from our student days.


When I left Newcastle he went on to become Dean of the Dental School, and I am sure he made a great impact on a lot of people during his time as Dean. On behalf of all the young dentists who Jimmy taught, I wanted to say a big thank you to him for making dentistry that little bit more quirky and for helping everyone he taught begin the journey we started to be where we are today.  


James Field, who was a student, and then staff member at Newcastle School of Dental Sciences from 2000-2017, also wanted to say a few words about him:


I first met Jimmy as 'Dr Steele' on the cons clinics as a third year BDS student. He was energetic and passionate about restorative dentistry. He was also loud and abrupt – both to students and to patients - and my clinical group and I found that absolutely hilarious. Who was this person who actually spoke his mind?


How does he get away with telling patients that their oral hygiene was bad, or students that their composites were a disgrace and looked like a ploughed field? Jimmy very quickly cemented himself as a clinical legend and fantastic teacher."


We thoroughly enjoyed our clinics, and were truly disappointed if he were ever away. Before the clinic started, he would sit on the nurses' station in his white coat, swinging his legs. To be fair, that's how he always seemed to sit when he was being impatient.


Occasionally he would be finishing his lunch, opening up his sandwich and pushing his crisps inside. In 2003 a group of us won the slave auction fish supper. Turns out we were the slaves. 5:30am at North Shields Fish Quay, and back for 8am to begin the prep.


I remember finding mosquito forceps in his knife draw with CSSD scribed into the side – 'great for deboning fish' Jimmy explained, leaning over my shoulder. Once we had decided on our menus, he eyed us up one by one, and said – well, you'd better get on with it.


Oh, I've invited the Dean and some special guests who are visiting the University from Germany. Don't poison them. Suffice to say it was a success. And that year, the auction raised around £3500 for the North East Air Ambulance.


All that said, I only really got to know Jimmy once I'd finished my general professional training, and came back into the University as a Clinical Fellow.


Throughout my last 10 years at Newcastle, I learned an incredible amount from Jimmy – both professionally as one of his specialty trainees, and academically as a member of his teaching staff. A truly unique person who will not (and couldn't possibly) be forgotten.


Rest in peace Professor Steele. 


Add your memory

Jimmy's family have requested any donations go to the Trussell Trust (a charity working to stop UK hunger and poverty providing emergency food and support to people in crisis). 


There are some wonderful tributes to Jimmy on this website so please feel free to donate too, and leave your memory of Jimmy. 


Rob Chaffe

Young Dentists Committee member