Foundation Dean of Griffith University’s School of Dentistry and Oral Health, Professor of Dental Research and Emeritus Professor of Oral Health at Kings College, Newell Johnson has recently been made a Companion of the Order of St George and St Michael (CMG).

The academic with honorary chairs in South Africa, Kenya, the West Indies and India was presented with his award by HRH Prince Charles at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

Ordinarily the ceremony would be performed by the Queen but she was in Brisbane at the time.

The order is based at St Paul’s Cathedral and was established to recognise extraordinary service in foreign (to England) countries.

Back at the Gold Coast Professor Johnson was delighted with his “gong” though keen to move the conversation on.

Given the chance to explain his success he is matter of fact.

“It’s quite unusual for people in academia to be invited into an order of chivalry, I suppose it comes from the fact I’ve spent 50 years promoting oral health as part of general health all over the world,” he said.

“My experience is unusually broad, it would probably be very difficult to establish a career in the way I have these days, you have to specialise much earlier and more narrowly now.”

Professor Johnson has maintained a long-term focus on oral, neck and head cancers as well as Epidemiology, Molecular Biology and the effects on oral health of HIV diseases.

Born and educated in Melbourne, Professor Johnson spent 42 years of his professional life based in the UK mostly with Kings College, but also travelling the world researching and teaching in developing countries and contributing to health policy.

He currently leads a taskforce for policy formation at the International Association for Dental Research.

In 2005 Professor Johnson came out of retirement in England to travel home to Australia and re-establish himself on the Gold Coast because he “thought it would be fun to start up a dental school”.

Clearly age has not dimmed his energy or enthusiasm for his vocation.

“It’s (dentistry) just a marvellous mixture of biological, behavioural and physical science, endlessly fascinating,” he said before heading to Sri Lanka.