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Live and work with integrity

- Wits University

Honorary doctorate awarded to stellar student who became an exception researcher and academic.

Wits University conferred a Doctor of Medicine honoris causa on Professor Peter Eiddon Cleaton-Jones, the former Director of the MRC/Wits Dental Research Institute.

Cleaton-Jones is cited for the influential role he played in establishing Wits’ international reputation for dentistry studies and research as well as building the capacity of South African private dental practitioners during his an illustrious and exhilarating academic career spanning over 50 years. [Read the full citation below.]

Upon being bestowed the honorary degree Cleaton-Jones addressed the 174 undergraduates and 109 postgraduates, mostly from the Faculty of Health Sciences, who graduated in the last graduation ceremony for 2017.

Cleaton-Jones, who has served on the Human Research Ethics Committee: Medical at Wits for 44 years – the first ethics committee in the southern hemisphere, told graduands that what has been most important in his career, and therefore in any career, is integrity.

“Whatever direction in life you decide to take; a vital reality is your reputation. It takes time to build a reputation but your reputation can be lost in an instant, perhaps forever. The word ethics concerns morality, and I believe integrity that includes honesty and trustworthiness is a core of morality. I’d like the graduating class of 2017 to let your motto be: ‘I must live and work always with integrity’,” Cleaton-Jones said.


Peter Eiddon Cleaton-Jones was born on 5 March 1941 in Johannesburg. He matriculated from the Marist Brothers College in 1957 and enrolled in the Faculty of Dentistry at Wits in 1958 as a National War Fund Grantee. Cleaton-Jones qualified BDS (cum Honoribus) in 1963 as the top graduate of the year winning all the undergraduate prizes on offer at the time.

During his final six months of dentistry he realised that if he wished to progress academically he would need to qualify in medicine as well. He was subsequently accepted into the third year of study in medicine and qualified MBBCh in 1967, again winning multiple prizes along the way.

After his internship at the Baragwanath hospital in 1968, Cleaton-Jones joined the MRC / Wits Dental Research Unit in January 1969, rising to be Chief Research Officer in 1973 and subsequently in 1977 he was appointed Professor of Experimental Odontology and Director of the Unit. Under his leadership the research direction of the unit changed to include dental caries, dental epidemiology, and anaesthesia. He also set goals to build increased capacity in research and to establish an international reputation for the unit.

In 1978 the MRC upgraded the Unit to an Institute with additional funding that helped towards achieving these goals. Capacity building was primarily achieved by encouraging private dental practitioners to do research towards higher qualifications in the Institute and secondly to initiate formal training in research methods. No such training was available at the time in the dental school so when Cleaton-Jones went overseas to Britain and the Netherlands in 1972 he looked for guidance. It however took time to set up such a course which started in 1978.

From 1980 the course was jointly run by Cleaton-Jones and the second-in-command in the Institute, Professor Elly Grossman. The course lasted until 2010 and was attended by nearly 2000 people, some of whom had no research background, while others were highly experienced researchers. 

The international reputation of the Institute was aided by the time Cleaton-Jones spent in visiting numerous centres in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States. As the international reputation increased, many collaborators from overseas spent varying periods in the Dental Research Institute. Importantly also strong internal collaborations with clinical departments at Wits developed most notably with Anaesthesiology and Maxillofacial and Oral Surgery.

During much of the time that Cleaton-Jones worked in the Dental Research Unit he also held part-time positions in anaesthesiology at the Baragwanath hospital until 1975 and subsequently at the Johannesburg hospital until 2003. At the same time he also had a part-time position as an emergency medicine medical officer at the Hillbrow hospital until 1984.

Cleaton-Jones remained the Director of the MRC/Wits Dental Research Institute until 2004 when the MRC component was removed in terms of a new policy to rotate research funding; at the time the Institute was the longest running in the MRC. The Institute continued within Wits until 2006 when Cleaton-Jones retired at the age of 65.

During his active research career, Cleaton-Jones obtained higher degrees and additional qualifications. These were three doctorates: a PhD from Wits in 1975, a DSc (Dent) again from Wits in 1991 and a PhD Honoris Causa from Medunsa in 2001. In order to get training in epidemiology and statistics he completed the DTM&H and DPH diplomas at Wits. Finally, he completed a diploma in anaesthesia from the Colleges of Medicine in 1975 and was awarded a Fellowship of the College of Dentistry ad eundem by the Colleges of Medicine in 2005.

During his very active research career Cleaton-Jones has published approximately 350 papers that have been cited on nearly 3000 occasions. The H index for these publications is in the high twenties, a truly remarkable achievement given the field in which Cleaton-Jones has dedicated his research career too.

There is no doubt that Cleaton-Jones has had an illustrious and exhilarating academic career spanning over 50 years. He is also an amazing individual, who, despite having retired in 2006, ten years later continues to serve the University as Chair of the Human Research Ethics Committee. 

In light of these achievements it is therefore befitting that the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg awards an honorary doctorate degree Peter Eiddon Cleaton-Jones.